It’s the inspiring story of how God empowers “ordinary” people to do the extraordinary: Three Christian men tackled an Islamic jihadist hellbent on slaughtering passengers on a crowded train, disarmed him and saved many innocent lives in a courageous act that would leave much of America bursting with pride.
And, they say, it was part of God’s plan for their lives all along.
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Spencer Stone, U.S. Army National Guard Spc. Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, a California State University student, sprinted toward El-Khazzani, a 26-year-old Moroccan national and alleged ISIS recruit, as he pointed his weapon at them on Aug. 15, 2015.
El-Khazzani was armed with an AK-47, a pistol, a box cutter, 270 rounds of ammunition and a bottle of gasoline during the high-speed railway ride to Paris. Knowing that at any moment, the jihadist could unleash his firepower and execute him on the spot, Stone tackled El-Khazzani.
Skarlatos wrestled the attacker’s weapon from him. But the jihadist pulled out a box cutter and began slashing Stone.
All three men fought El-Khazzani and rendered the assailant unconscious. Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler then tended to other injured passengers on the train until paramedics and police arrived.
The three young men made international news for their heroic efforts.
Now Hollywood director Clint Eastwood is retelling their story in the new film “The 15:17 to Paris,” which is set to be released in theaters Friday. Eastwood enlisted the three heroes to play themselves in the film.
The three men, who have been friends since they attended middle school in California together, say they give all the glory to God for placing them on the train and preparing them for that critical moment.
“The odds of our exact situation happening to us are too astronomical to believe that it was just purely chance,” Skarlatos said. “I mean, we shouldn’t be here today, to be honest. I really think God had a hand in it.”
Skarlatos, a member of the Oregon Army National Guard’s 41st Infantry Brigade Combat team who had just finished a tour in Afghanistan before traveling to Europe to vacation with his two friends, said the three men had been prepared for that moment by years of medical and infantry training.
“It’s like we were training our whole lives for that moment without even knowing about it,” he said.
Stone, a trained paramedic who said he was raised in a Christian home and attended church every Sunday, added: “God, for me, is someone who is always there, who will always have my back – whether it’s a good situation or a bad situation.
“God is not going to put you through anything you can’t handle. I think that’s what I kinda fell back on in the moment on the train. At times, we’re vessels to be used by him to do his work. And it was an honor to do something that good. … I just want to earn the life we’ve been given by God.”
Sadler said he believes God not only put them there to save lives, He also planned use the men to spread His message.
“I feel like we’re just affirming God’s plan for our lives by being where we’re supposed to be on the train that day and just the things that have happened since. It’s all just another step in the bigger plan that we’re just not aware of,” Sadler said.
“As far as on the train that day, you can’t almost deny that God had his hand on us because so many things could have gone the other way. It’s divine intervention. I feel like we were meant to spread the story, and it’s meant to touch people.”
Eastwood cast not only the three heroes but also many other people who were actually on the scene when the terrorist attack was thwarted.
In production notes from the movie obtained by WND, Eastwood said, “Whether it was a guardian angel riding on their shoulders or pure luck or something in between, whatever you believe, however you interpret things in life, these guys were meant to do this and to survive it.”
While “The 15:17 to Paris” recreates a heroic moment in recent history, Eastwood also believed that making the film and telling the story of these heroes was an opportunity to explore something more:
These are regular people, like the majority of us out there, who get the gift of life and do the best we can with it, and maybe we get lucky. That day, the stakes couldn’t have been higher, but these guys all ended up doing the right thing at the right time. They could have been very unlucky, but they took charge of their fate. It’s all about what fate hands you … and how you handle it.
This was a revered event in France and America, and it came along at a time when we’re asking ourselves how we would react under adversity. What these boys did was to show that the common man can not only have great instincts, but act on them. Sure, they were prepared in that they had some military and medical training, but they weren’t on a battlefield; they weren’t prepared for this. They just saw something happening and came together, one, two, three, and saved a lot of lives that way. If they can do it, so can we.
The highly anticipated drama marks Eastwood’s third director-producer partnership with Warner Bros., after his blockbuster hits 2016’s Oscar-nominated “Sully” and 2014’s “American Sniper.”