American-French train attack hero is on the road to recovery after being shot "protecting his wife and his city"

By Rose Minutaglio
Updated August 28, 2015 05:10 PM
Credit: Jacqueline Moogalian Pittman

Mark Moogalian, the 51-year-old French-American professor who was shot in the back of the neck while attempting to subdue a gunman aboard a Paris train last month, has been transferred from the ICU at a hospital in Lille, France, to a room in the regular hospital wing.

“I m relieved, excited and happy,” his sister, Jacqueline Moogalian Pittman, 45, tells PEOPLE. “Seeing him all bloodied up was hard. I just want to grab him and hug him!”

U.S. Airman First Class Spencer Stone, one of the three American heroes who helped thwart the gunman’s attack, put two fingers into Moogalian’s wound to stop the bleeding.

“He stayed in that position the entire trip until we got to Arras, so I really think he saved my husband’s life,” his wife, Isabelle Risacher-Moogalian, who was also on the train, told Europe 1 radio.

The University of Paris professor and musician, who grew up in Durham, North Carolina, wanted to be an artist from a young age.

“When he was 5 years old, Santa brought him his first guitar,” Moogalian Pittman recalls. “He started strumming it, and I have honestly never seen anybody smile that much.”

After college, Mark moved to Paris to find himself as an artist.

“He’s a natural-born musician and always has been,” a close family member, who wishes to remain anonymous, tells PEOPLE. “He has an ear for listening to people and hearing things others don’t. I think that’s why he was wary of the gunman on the train.”

Moogalian was living as a “starving musician” – sleeping on the riverbanks of the Seine at night and playing guitar on the cobblestone streets during the day – when he met his wife Isabelle.

The two started a band – Secret Seasons – with Moogalian as the songwriter-guitarist and his wife on lead vocals. The duo released their first album, On Our Own, in the spring of 2011.

In one of the couple’s very first songs, “Till Tomorrow,” Moogalian chillingly writes:

How did I

Blow my cover

In the shadows

I m still a fighter

Till tomorrow

I m a soldier

I m a warrior

Because of his gunshot wounds, Moogalian was unable to attend the French Legion of Honor Medal ceremony with his fellow heroes: Army National Guard Specialist Alex Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler and Airman Spencer Stone, but the French government has noted he will be recognized at a later date.

“Mark thought he was going to die on the train that day,” says his sister. “When he charged the gunman, he didn t think he would make it, but he did it anyway. There was no hesitation. That’s why he’s a real hero.”

She adds, “The heroic act is just Mark. I wasn’t surprised what he did – he wasn’t just protecting his wife, but he was protecting all those people on the train and he was protecting his city.”