Oregon massacre hits close to home for Paris train hero

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (left) pins the Solider's Medal on Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos during an awards ceremony on Sept 17, 2015 for Skarlatos and two other men who helped stop a gunman on a Paris-bound train.
US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter (left) pins the Solider's Medal on Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos during an awards ceremony on Sept 17, 2015 for Skarlatos and two other men who helped stop a gunman on a Paris-bound train. PHOTO: AFP

ROSEBURG, United States (AFP) - The Oregon college massacre has hit close to home for one of the men who helped thwart a mass shooting on a Paris-bound train and was enrolled at the school.

"Heading home to Roseburg tonight. Everyone send thoughts and prayers to families," Alek Skarlatos, a US Army National Guardsman, tweeted late Thursday after hearing of the tragedy at Umpqua Community College.

Skarlatos and two of his friends, Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, were awarded medals in the United States and France's highest honor, the Legion of Honor, for their role in stopping a suspected terrorist attack on a train in August.

Skarlatos, 22, says he would have been attending classes at Umpqua in Roseburg - where he is assigned to an infantry unit - had it not been for all the attention he has been getting since the train attack.

He said he was in Los Angeles rehearsing for this season's "Dancing With the Stars", the popular show in which he has been invited to compete, when he heard of the shooting and rushed back to Roseburg.

"If I didn't get called for 'Dancing' I would have been on campus," Skarlatos told the US television show "Good Morning America" on Friday.

"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."

A gunman identified as 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer opened fire in a classroom at Umpqua killing nine people and wounding 10, authorities say. The shooter also died.

Asked if he would have tackled the gunman had he been at the college - as he did to a gunman on the train in France - Skarlatos said: "I would have tried, anyway."