The U.S. Army National Guardsman who helped thwart a terrorist attack on a Paris-bound train in August says he would have been in a classroom at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College when a gunman opened fire Thursday had it not been for the hero’s welcome he received after the train attack.
Army Spc. Alek Skarlatos, 22, and his two friends, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, were awarded medals from the United States and France and met in the Oval Office with President Obama after they helped stop a man armed with an automatic rifle and a box cutter who had started firing on a Paris-bound train.
Skarlatos, assigned to an infantry unit in Roseburg, Oregon, was also chosen to compete on this season’s “Dancing With the Stars.” It was while in a rehearsal for “Dancing” Thursday that Skarlatos learned a gunman had opened fire at Roseburg's Umpqua Community College, the same school where Skarlatos was enrolled to take classes this semester.
“I was enrolled in the Reserve Academy on Saturday and Tuesday and Thursday classes and if I didn’t get called for the ‘Dancing’ show I would have been on campus,” Skarlatos said today on “Good Morning America” in a live interview from Roseburg.
A gunman, identified by law enforcement sources as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, opened fire in a classroom at Umpqua just before 10:40 a.m., Thursday, leaving 10 dead and at least seven others injured, according to the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office.
When asked whether he would have taken down the gunman if he had been in the classroom, Skarlatos replied, “I would have tried anyways.”
“I mean, it’s just absolutely insane to be in a situation like this, especially in my town, Roseburg,” he said. “This is a really small community and just something of this magnitude happening here is just very rare and just unheard of.”
Skarlatos said he received the news of the shooting from a friend while his "Dancing" partner, Lindsay Arnold, looked on.
“I was actually in the studio with Lindsay, dancing, and I got a text from one of my friends telling me what had happened, so I looked it up on the Internet to confirm it and I was just in total shock,” Skarlatos said. “I just sat down for a second and then hid in the bathroom so the cameras couldn’t see me.
“Almost within an hour I decided I would come here and be with my community,” he said of making the trip from Los Angeles home to Roseburg.
Skarlatos says that, as far as he knows, none of his friends were among the shooting victims, but he is keeping the family and friends of those who were hurt or killed in his thoughts.
“My heart really goes out to the people who can’t say the same,” he said.