Professor Who Grew Up in Virginia Tried to Wrestle Gun Away from Train Terrorist

A professor originally from Virginia was revealed as the first passenger on a Paris-bound high-speed train to confront a terrorist who was hellbent on inflicting mass casualties.


Moroccan national Ayoub El-Khazzani, 26, was armed with an AK-47, box cutters and lots of ammunition, and caught the attention of Mark Moogalian when he went into the restroom with a suitcase. The gunman emerged with his weapon, and was rushed by the teacher:

Moogalian and his wife were seated facing each other on the high-speed train when she saw only his expression and the urgent “Get out, this is serious.” Then, Isabelle Risacher Moogalian said, she ducked behind some seats as he lunged to grab the assault rifle from the gunman’s hands.

“When my husband collapsed, I saw across the seats. He looked at me and he said ‘I’m hit, I’m hit.’ He thought it was over and he was going to die,” she told Europe-1 radio. The bullet struck him in the back and exited through the neck.

…Moogalian remained hospitalized Tuesday in the northern city of Lille, and his sister in Virginia said his role in trying to stop what French authorities are calling a terror attack was in character.

“Mark would give anything for anybody,” Julia Allen told NBC News. “He’s just that kind of person.”

Risacher said U.S. Airman Spencer Stone came across the wounded Moogalian and stanched the bleeding by holding his finger on the wound until paramedics could take over.

Moogalian runs a language school from a houseboat in the outskirts of Paris, according to the school’s website. Music and art are clearly his passions, as his personal website attests, with its range of sculpture, paintings, photos and downloads of music he performs in a duo with his wife. In the duo’s biography, they describe themselves as “largely bicultural, bringing the best of both worlds.”

“My husband is among the heroes of this story, and he nearly paid with his life, because just a few millimeters closer and the bullet would have sliced his carotid in exiting,” Risacher said.


Moogalian, 51, is a graduate of Midlothian High School in Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, and his Armenian family has deep roots in the area, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He’s been living in France for more than two decades.

He will be receiving the Legion of Honor, which British businessman Chris Norman, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and college student Anthony Sadler received in a ceremony with French President Francois Hollande yesterday.

A fifth hero was honored in stopping the attack as well. The Frenchman, who wanted to remain anonymous, reportedly warned passengers about the gunman before Moogalian tried to wrestle away his weapon. The others Americans stepped in and beat the Moroccan unconscious.


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