Spencer Stone and his two friends stepped in when a gunman opened fire on a train bound for Paris

By Rose Minutaglio
Updated August 22, 2015 04:30 PM
Credit: AFP/Getty

Spencer Stone is a true American hometown hero to his friends and former co-workers in Carmichael, California, and they were not surprised to learn that he risked his own life to stop a gunman who opened fire on a European train on Friday.

Along with Army National Guard Specialist Aleksander “Alek” Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, Stone, a USAF Airman First Class, played a key role in subduing the armed attacker – reportedly subduing him until he became unconscious after he opened fire on a Thalys train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris.

“I knew Spencer when he worked at Raly’s grocery store as a bagger a few years back,” grocery store checker Rich Wisdom, 48, tells PEOPLE. “The kind of guy he is, I can see him stepping up. He’s a big guy, probably 6’1″ or 6’2″, so I could see where he could use that to his advantage in the situation he was. He always seemed like he would be there to help people out if they needed it.”

Wisdom calls Stone, 21, an “all-around American nice guy,” and a “true hero.”

“I’m proud to call him my friend and former co-worker, he’s somebody that would help you out if you needed it,” he says. “It’s awesome to know that I know someone who would do something so heroic from my hometown. Give him the key to the country! California should have a parade for him.”

Dave Nobis, Stone’s basketball coach at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California, called him a “blue-collar straight shooter.”

“He didn’t play because he had to work. No nonsense good team player,” Nobis, 43, who coached him during his junior year of high school on the varsity team in 2009. “He wasn’t a starter but a hard worker.

“It doesn’t surprise me that he stepped up,” he continued. “He was always trying to pick up his teammates, from giving somebody a high five, a classmate or a teammate. After he graduated he sent me a link to a motivational speech to use in my psychology class.” Close friend Marilyn Norberry of Fair Oaks, California, tells PEOPLE she always knew Stone was going to “do something great,” she just didn’t know it would be on an international scale.

“I’m not surprised he took actions into his own hands, that’s why he wanted to join the Air Force in the first place. To protect his country, his family and most importantly his mother. He would do anything for her,” she says. “But to save a train full of people he didn’t even know in a strange country is something no one will ever forget. He is one of the bravest young men of our generation.”

Stone, who was injured during the encounter, was discharged from the hospital on Saturday. He, along with his two companions, have been heralded as heroes by the French media and their fellow passengers. French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, who was also on the train, told Paris Match about their heroic actions, saying, “I want to pay tribute to their heroic courage and thank them, without them we’d all be dead.”

President Barack Obama has also put in a call to the three Americans and lauded their “courage and quick thinking.” The group is slated to meet with French President Francois Hollande at the élysée Palace on Monday.

Obama spoke later Saturday with Hollande and while U.S. officials stopped short of outright labeling the incident a “terrorist attack,” pending further investigation, a statement from the White House said the two presidents agreed the assailant was “a heavily armed individual who appeared intent on causing mass casualties.” The statement went on to affirm that the U.S. and France will continue to work together “to combat the scourge of terrorism.”

Additional reporting by SANDRA SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL