OTR Interviews

Thwarting terror on tracks: In 1 American hero's own words

'Terror on the Tracks: An American Hero's Story': National Guard specialist Alek Skarlatos tells Greta how he and his friends saved hundreds by subduing a suspected Islamist militant carrying an AK-47 on a Paris-bound train. #ProudAmerican


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," August 28, 2015. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Three American heroes rushing to the rescue, doing the incredible, stopping a heavily armed terrorist suspect in his tracks. This is a special edition of ON THE RECORD, "Terror on the Tracks: An American Hero's Story."

And tonight one incredibly brave American serviceman tells us how he and two childhood friends stopped what most certainly would have been a deadly terror attack. Now it all unfolded on a train in France. Oregon National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos risking his own life to save the lives around, the lives of people he never even met. This courageous American charging the heavily-armed gunman and holding him down until police arrived.

And right now American hero Alek Skarlatos goes ON THE RECORD. And as you watch this hero's story, tweet using #ProudAmerican.

Alek, thanks for joining us.

ALEK SKARLATOS, HELPED STOP GUNMAN: Thank you very much. It's good to be here.

VAN SUSTEREN: What did you think when you watched that opening?

SKARLATOS: It was -- it's still unbelievable. I still can't believe it. I would like to say one thing, though. I didn't hold him down. Spencer is the one who held him down and choked him. So, I just want to get that straight.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, it did -- it was the three of you who worked together and also you had the help of a Brit. A Brit helped as well?

SKARLATOS: Yes, yes, he was great. He helped tie him up afterwards and he helped translate for us with the French, which was actually very important because we -- nobody spoke English on that train. So, yes, he was actually fantastic.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, take me back to the beginning. You and your two friends decided to go to Europe for a vacation, right? Or meet up.

SKARLATOS: Yes, we were going to meet up in Amsterdam and head to Paris. And then just for Amsterdam and Paris. And then, from Paris, they were going to break off and I was probably going to head back to Germany.

VAN SUSTEREN: How did you know these guys?

SKARLATOS: Well, Spencer and I have been neighbors since we were about four or five years old. So we literally have grown up together. Our mothers still live next door to each other in the same houses. And Anthony met Spencer and I in middle school, and I mean, we have -- Spencer and I have been friends for the whole time and Anthony as well.

It's just we haven't been able to stay in that close of contact lately just because I have been in Afghanistan. Spencer has been in Azores and we just haven't been around Sacramento to see Anthony.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So whose idea was it to finally get together and go to Europe together?

SKARLATOS: It was Spencer and my idea. I have wanted to do something like that for a long, long time. And then coming off from the deployment, while Spencer was in Azores just seemed like the perfect time to do it. So I'm like there's no way we're not going to do this because I'm doing this trip, so if you want to come, you are already in Portugal so why not. And Anthony said well, I mean, I haven't seen you guys in a while so let's do this. So we all did.

VAN SUSTEREN: So the idea was to meet up and travel around on a train. But it turned out very differently, didn't it?


VAN SUSTEREN: Much differently than you expected.

SKARLATOS: Yes. What can you do?

VAN SUSTEREN: OK. So, take me to that -- the day that this whole thing unfolded. What time do you board the train, about?

SKARLATOS: Boarded the train at 3:17 p.m. Local Time.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you were headed to Paris?


VAN SUSTEREN: What time were you supposed to get there about?

SKARLATOS: It was around 6:35, if I remember correctly.

VAN SUSTEREN: So what happened? Did you hear something?

SKARLATOS: Well, Spencer and Anthony were asleep. I heard a gunshot and breaking glass was the first thing that I heard. I didn't realize it was a gunshot at the time. I thought somebody maybe just dropped something and broke a window or something like that. I didn't realize what was going on really until a train employee ran past us at a full sprint.

VAN SUSTEREN: Going towards the noise or away.

SKARLATOS: Away, away from the noise.


VAN SUSTEREN: Away from the noise.

SKARLATOS: To the front of the train.

VAN SUSTEREN: You guys went towards it. He went way?

SKARLATOS: Well, yes. I mean, at that point, Spencer woke up. And we both looked behind us and saw a guy entering our car with an AK-47 looking like he was trying to work the action or something like that. So we both ducked down immediately. And I just told Spencer let's go, go get him.

And Spencer was the first one up. I got up about two or three seconds behind Spencer, because I actually didn't even know he left until I saw him running in front of me. And I'm like, oh, I better get going.

So, Spencer, got to him first, tackled the guy. I guess he dropped his AK-47 around that time and it's all kind of a blink. And we beat up on him a little bit. Anthony got some blows in for sure. Spencer got the choke in on the guy. Then he pulled out a handgun.

It was right in front of me, so I just grabbed the handgun immediately. I pried it out of his hand. I tried to shoot him with it twice, but it was empty at that point, so I threw it. Then I grabbed the AK-47 which was at his feet. I don't remember this, but I apparently tried to shoot him with that as well.

But then I started beating him over the head with it with the muzzle. And just hit him about 4 or 5 times until he stop moving. At that time he started to go unconscious from Spencer's chokehold and then he passed out. We put him on the ground. Chris helped tie him up.

And then around that time, we noticed that Mark was shot through the neck. Mark is the French-American guy.

VAN SUSTEREN: The actor?

SKARLATOS: No. He is the -- he is the, I think he is a different guy.


SKARLATOS: I'm not sure, though. But, anyway, yes, Mark got shot through the neck. And his wife brought it to our attention. I told Spencer. Spencer immediately run over to him, started performing first aid on him. Just held down the artery.

And at that point, I took the AK-47 and went back to check the other train cars, to make sure there was no other shooter or anything like that. I told the other passengers just to keep everybody in the car, where they were and don't let anybody to come up front. Then I came back.

The terrorist was already tied up. Mark did -- Chris, sorry, did a good job there. Spencer was still working on Mark. I made sure Spencer didn't need anything else. We just got some first aid kits thing like that.

I checked Mark to make sure he wasn't -- didn't have any other gunshot wounds. I cut him -- cut his shirt off with the box cutter, the terrorist was stabbing Spencer with, and from there, we pretty much just rode the rest of the train out until it got to our stop.

VAN SUSTEREN: And what was going on in the train? Were people screaming? I mean -- and were any of the conductors or anyone in the train helping you, or was it just basically the three of you and the Brit and there was another unidentified -- a man named Damien, I think.

SKARLATOS: Well, the unidentified man, he actually did a lot more at the beginning. Apparently, we talked to him right after it happened. And he told us that he was waiting for the bathroom and when the guy came out with the AK, they just stared at each other for a few seconds and he started to choke him.

And, apparently, a train employee, I don't know if it was the same one that ran past me or not. But a train employee came and broke them up thinking it was just a regular fight. And then when he broke them up, that's when he came into our cabin and shot Mark in the neck. That's when we noticed him.

VAN SUSTEREN: By the way, how is Mark, do you know?

SKARLATOS: I talked to him right before we left France, and he seemed to be doing great. He was going into surgery that night. And I haven't heard about anything involving him since.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. The guy, the terrorist, the guy with the AK-47. Was he saying anything at any time at least until in the very beginning?

SKARLATOS: No. He said nothing at all. I didn't hear him say a word, honestly.

VAN SUSTEREN: But obviously was this -- the box cutter and he heard Spencer. He got Spencer.

SKARLATOS: Oh, yes. He put up a good fight, but I mean when he got three or four guys that are all bigger than you, I mean, you don't stand a chance really.

VAN SUSTEREN: Why do you think you ran towards him? I must admit that I fear that I would have run away.

SKARLATOS: Honestly, I was afraid of that, too. Like, I have, I was always afraid that if something like this happened, I would just sit there and piss my pants or something. But I mean, when he came in, I -- we had to do something. Spencer was on the aisle seat. I was on the window seat. And I just said let's go.

And Spencer had to be the first one to get up. And he didn't hesitate at all. He got up and just ran straight at the guy while the guy was trying to get his AK working to shoot him, mind you. And Spencer got him and got to choke him. And we all just started beating on him.

I mean, like -- I mean, I have told other people this, but we frankly just got very, very lucky. His handgun only had -- was able to fire the one round, then the magazine drop out of it.

His AK, I'm pretty sure he just had it on safe or wasn't able to get it functioning in the first place. And his ammunition was horrible because there's a firing pin strike on one of the rounds and it didn't go off.

So, I mean, we just got lucky in five or six different ways. I mean, if anyone of those things went different, we all would have died, especially Spencer.

VAN SUSTEREN: Train filled with people?

SKARLATOS: I wouldn't say packed to capacity because we were in the first class so I don't really know about the rest of the train. But, I mean, they said there was about 550 people on that train. And that seems like a lot to me. I don't know what the standard load is.

VAN SUSTEREN: What were the other passengers on the train -- I suppose you were busy trying to restrain this guy and make sure he didn't kill anybody. But do you have any idea what the other passengers were doing? Was anyone saying anything?

SKARLATOS: Well, there was a few screams at first. And again, I don't really know -- didn't notice what was going on. But after it was all over, everybody seemed just really quiet and shocked for the most part.

There was one train employee that came up to us right as it was getting over and told Spencer to stop choking the guy, which was insane because he wasn't even fully unconscious. And told me to put the AK down, which again, was insane because I hadn't even looked through the train to see if anybody else was there.

I don't know what he was thinking, but I just told him that I was military and to calm down and get out of the way. And then Chris translated for us. I mean, that was really it, other than Mark's wife, who, of course, was worried about her husband.

VAN SUSTEREN: How long was the ride from the time that you took him down, until the time you finally came to a stop and it was pretty much over at that point.

SKARLATOS: It was a lot longer than I thought. It was actually about, I think we left at about 35 minutes.

VAN SUSTEREN: So he was on the floor restrained and what are you doing right at that point? What's going through your mind?

SKARLATOS: We were just making sure he wasn't waking up, frankly. I mean, at that point, he was already tied up. And I had Chris making sure that he wasn't moving or wasn't waking up or anything like that. But, really, we were just, I mean, Spencer was busy doing his thing. I was busy looking through the cars. I mean, I honestly wasn't too concerned with him. I was just worried that there might be another one.

VAN SUSTEREN: And so that -- and so the 35-minute ride and you get to your destination and then what happens?

SKARLATOS: Well, at that point, I had already cleared all the weapons and put them in a corner by a door. Spencer was still providing medical care on Mark. I mean, he saved his life, no doubt. And when we pulled into the station, doors came open. After, about five or six police and paramedics came on board, I found the gap and got right off the train.

VAN SUSTEREN: At what point did they recognize that you were -- that you guys were the heroes in this. That you essentially prevented a lot of lives from being destroyed and killed?

SKARLATOS: I'm pretty sure it was immediately afterwards because when they came off the train, they realized that we were the ones around the terrorist and Mark.

And then they did some initial questioning right there on the platform and they figured out that we were the ones that were most directly involved. And so they took us immediately to the police station for questioning.

VAN SUSTEREN: And how long were you there answering questions?

SKARLATOS: Like five hours.

VAN SUSTEREN: This wasn't exactly the trip you planned, wasn't it?

SKARLATOS: No. I mean, frankly, I thought they would just let us go afterwards. I didn't think -- I thought that that same night they would just put us on a different train to Paris and it would all be fine. But yes, no, it's been, it's been absolutely unreal for sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: And when you got to Paris, you got the award eventually, the Legion of Honor which is France's highest award. I mean, it's incredible. Incredible what you guys did and incredible you got -- and the award.

Good for the French.


SKARLATOS: Well, it was -- yes, it was an honor for sure. The French were absolutely fantastic to us. I mean from the police station in Arras to the (INAUDIBLE). I mean, everyone in between, was fantastic. The American Embassy workers there were awesome, too. I mean, just -- it's been a great experience for sure.

VAN SUSTEREN: I might add, though, that you guys really deserved it. Everyone was terrific to you, but you guys so deserved it.