'Oh My God, It's Happening': 62-Year-Old Man Who Helped American Train Heroes Recalls 20 Minutes of Terror Aboard the Thalys
A 62-year-old grandfather reveals his role in assisting three American heroes in taking down the Paris train gunman
As a frequent passenger aboard the high-speed trans-European rail system, British businessman Chris Norman often had rehearsed in his mind what would happen if a terrorist attacked his train. When the nightmare scenario actually unfolded last Friday, the first thought to enter his mind was, “Oh my God, it’s happening.”
The 62-year-old grandfather of three was working on his computer last Friday, while riding in the same Paris-bound car as Americans Anthony Sandler, Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone. The first sign of trouble was when a train conductor ran through the car shouting, “Merde!” – a French expletive.
Norman, who lives in southern France where he runs a consulting business, stood up to see what was happening. To his horror, he saw a man walking and carrying an AK-47 rifle.
“It seemed to be cocked and ready for use,” Norman tells PEOPLE. “He had his finger on the trigger and he was holding the front of the barrel and pointing it down the wagon.”
Norman’s first reaction was to hide. But other men’s voices – young and American-accented – reached Norman through his fear.
“I hear somebody shout, ‘Bring him down, Spence!’ And almost simultaneously, ‘Don’t do that, [expletive]!”
Everyone else on the train was cowering at that point, Norman says, but he was lifted by the notion that someone was fighting back.
Thinking, “Now’s the time to resist,” Norman rallied. “We stand a better chance if we work as a team,” he told himself.
Norman ran down the car to join the young men – the heroic American trio.
Together, the four men grappled with the gunman, who put up a fierce fight.
“Spencer already had him in a stranglehold … I decided to put him into an arm lock with his right hand behind his shoulder,” Norman says.
Noting that everything was “fast and chaotic,” Norman recalls that as soon as the gunman was subdued, the multilingual businessman translated for Skarlatos as the two procured cable ties from other passengers, hoping to secure the assailant.
“I pulled with my teeth, but the damn things didn’t hold,” Norman says.
Finally, with neckties and a scarf supplied by other passengers, the foursome made sure that Ayoub el-Khazzani, who is currently facing charges in Paris for attempted murder with terrorist intent, was immobilized.
I just kept watching him and I switched off [anything else going on],” Norman says. “I was terrified he would move.”
Despite initial confusion while speaking to French personnel and a Flemish driver who had to consult controllers in Belgium, Norman says the train sped to a nearby station so that fellow assistant Mark Moogalian and others could seek medical treatment for their injuries.
In the days following the incident, the men involved have been hailed as heroes, with the three Americans and Norman receiving the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest award. Norman has also been made a knight of France.
“As soon as Alek said, ‘Go,’ that was when I moved, and it galvanized us all,” he says of the heroic event.
For more on their remarkable heroics and inspiring bond, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday.