US airman who disarmed train gunman to receive Purple Heart

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A U.S. airman who helped disarm a gunman on a Paris-bound train last month will receive a Purple Heart medal, the U.S. Air Force leader said on Monday, in an unusual award of the honor to a serviceman wounded while not in a combat zone.

Spencer Stone, 23, will receive the medal, which is given to troops wounded or killed in action against a U.S. enemy, U.S. Air Force Secretary Deborah James said in remarks at the Air Force Association Conference.

Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, a civilian, were vacationing in Europe last month when they saw a gunman on board a train from Amsterdam to Paris armed with a box cutter, a pistol, and a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle.

They have said they had no choice but to intervene when the gunman cocked the rifle. Stone, whose thumb was almost severed by the attacker, has been credited with saving the life of another passenger who had been shot.

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US airman who disarmed train gunman to receive Purple Heart
In this photo provided by Christina Cathleen Coons, a person lies on the floor after an incident on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on the train wounding several people before American passengers subdued him, according to officials and one of the Americans involved. (Christina Cathleen Coon via AP)
Members of the police forensics team take part in an investigation next to a Thalys train on the platform at Arras train station, northern France, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. A gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris Friday, wounding several people before being subdued by passengers, officials said. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
In this photo provided by Christina Cathleen Coons, a man is detained on a train platform after an incident on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in Arras, northern France. The gunman opened fire on the train wounding several people before American passengers subdued him, according to officials and one of the Americans involved. (Christina Cathleen Coon via AP)
Crime and forensic investigators stand on a platform next to a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Thalys train of French national railway operator, SNCF, stands at the main train station in Arras, northern France, after a gunman opened fire injuring three people, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A spokesman for France's interior ministry says three people were wounded in a shooting on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris Friday. Speaking on French television BFM, Pierre-Henri Brandet says a suspect is in custody and the train has been evacuated in Arras, 115 miles (185 kilometers) north of Paris, where the train stopped after the attack. (AP Photo)
Police officers investigate on a platform next to a Thalys train at Arras train station, northern France, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris Friday, wounding three people before being subdued by two American passengers, officials said. French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, speaking in Arras in northern France where the suspected was detained, said one of the Americans was hospitalized with serious wounds. (AP Photo)
An injured man is carried away on a stretcher from the train station of Arras, northern France, after being injured on August 21, 2015 when a gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris. A heavily armed man opened fire on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris on August 21, injuring at least two people before being overpowered by passengers. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)
Police arive to inspect the crime scene inside a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
French soldiers patrol at Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. A gunman prepared to open fire with an automatic weapon on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding several people before being subdued by passengers, officials said. (AP Photo/Binta)
French police officers patrol at Gare du Nord train station in Paris, France, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. A gunman prepared to open fire with an automatic weapon on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding several people before being subdued by passengers, officials said. (AP Photo/Binta)
Police work on a platform next to a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
In this Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, image made from a video taken by Anthony Sadler, a bag and gun are seen on a train seat after an incident on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The man who boarded the train with a rifle before being tackled by passengers was on the radar of authorities in multiple countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said. (Anthony Sadler/Youtube via AP)
In this Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, image made from a video taken by Anthony Sadler, American Spencer Stone, top, attends to an injured passenger after an incident on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The man who boarded the train with a rifle before being tackled by Stone and other passengers, was on the radar of authorities in multiple countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said. (Anthony Sadler/Youtube via AP) 
In this Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, image made from a video taken by Anthony Sadler, a gunman lies on floor with arms tied behind his back, after an incident on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The man who boarded the train with a rifle before being tackled by passengers was on the radar of authorities in multiple countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said. (Anthony Sadler/Youtube via AP)

In this Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, image made from a video taken by Anthony Sadler, a bag and gun are seen on a train seat after an incident on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. A gunman who boarded the train with a rifle before being tackled by passengers was on the radar of authorities in multiple countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said. (Anthony Sadler/Youtube via AP) 

Rescue workers are seen on a platform at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF stands at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
French police and train personnel stand outside the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
French police stand inside the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Police inspect a crime scene inside a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Crime investigators look into the window of a Thalys train of French national railway operator SNCF at the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. The motives behind the attack were not immediately known. AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE HUGUEN (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
An ambulance stands outside the main train station in Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. A gunman opened fire on a train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring three people before being overpowered by passengers, French state rail company SNCF and rescue services said. Two of the victims were seriously injured and at least one suffered gunshot wounds, an SNCF spokesman said, adding that the assailant was armed with guns and knives. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
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France awarded the three Americans and a Briton with the country's highest honor, the Legion d'honneur, for helping to disarm the man.

Authorities have identified the gunman as suspected Islamist militant Ayoub el Khazzani, 26, of Morocco. The man's lawyer said he only intended to rob people on board the train because he was hungry. The top Paris prosecutor said last month that he had opened an investigation into "attempted murder with terrorist intent."

The decision to award Stone the Purple Heart is unusual because his wounds were received in a non-combat setting, although such awards are not unprecedented.

In past years Purple Hearts have been awarded to wounded survivors and relatives of those killed in the 2009 shooting rampage by an Army psychiatrist at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas, and to those wounded in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

Congress inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act of 2015 expanding the eligibility for the Purple Heart by stating it should cover an attack if the perpetrator was in communication with foreign terrorists or inspired by one.

Skarlatos will receive the Soldiers Medal, the U.S. Army's highest non-combat medal, while Sadler will receive the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor, awarded to civilians, Captain Jeff Davis said on Monday.

In addition to the Purple Heart, Stone will receive the Airman's Medal, the Air Force's highest non-combat award for bravery. The medals will be awarded at a ceremony at the Pentagon this week.

Look back at the hero passengers:

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US airman who disarmed train gunman to receive Purple Heart
French President Francois Hollande, second left, awards U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, center, while Alek Skarlatos a U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, applauds at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. Hollande pinned the Legion of Honor medal on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their years-long friend Anthony Sadler, who subdued the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. The British businessman, Chris Norman, also jumped into the fray. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
French President Francois Hollande, right, awards with the Legion of Honor Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California as British businessman Chris Norman, left, looks on at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. Hollande pinned the Legion of Honor medal on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their years-long friend Anthony Sadler, who subdued the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. The British businessman, Chris Norman, also jumped into the fray. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)
From left : French President, Francois Hollande, U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, pose for photographers as they leave the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, after being awarded with the French Legion of Honor by French President, Francois Hollande, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. French President Francois Hollande and a bevy of officials are presenting the Americans with the prestigious Legion of Honor on Monday. The three American travelers say they relied on gut instinct and a close bond forged over years of friendship as they took down a heavily armed man on a passenger train speeding through Belgium. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
Legion of Honor medals for the three Americans and the British businessman, Chris Norman are pictured on a cushion at the Elysee Palace, Monday Aug.24, 2015 in Paris, France. French President Francois Hollande pinned the Legion of Honor medal on U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and their years-long friend Anthony Sadler, who subdued the gunman as he moved through the train with an assault rifle strapped to his bare chest. The British businessman, Chris Norman, also jumped into the fray. (AP Photo/Catherine Gaschka , Pool)
U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos, left, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, 2nd left, and Anthony Sadler, right, a senior at Sacramento University in California, leave the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, with U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley after being awarded with the French Legion of Honor by French President, Francois Hollande, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. French President Francois Hollande and a bevy of officials are presenting the Americans with the prestigious Legion of Honor on Monday. The three American travelers say they relied on gut instinct and a close bond forged over years of friendship as they took down a heavily armed man on a passenger train speeding through Belgium. (AP Photo/Kamil Zihnioglu)
U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos , left, waves to the media as he leaves the Elysee Place in Paris, France, with U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, after being awarded with the French Legion of Honor by French President, Francois Hollande, Monday, Aug. 24, 2015. French President Francois Hollande and a bevy of officials are presenting the Americans with the prestigious Legion of Honor on Monday. The three American travelers say they relied on gut instinct and a close bond forged over years of friendship as they took down a heavily armed man on a passenger train speeding through Belgium. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)
Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, left, U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos, right, and U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, second from left, pose for photographers with Jane D. Hartley, U.S. Ambassador to France, before a press conference held at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Paris, France, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone helped foil a potentially deadly attack when they subdued a man armed with an assault rifle and other weapons on board a high-speed train bound for Paris two days ago. The man was known to intelligence services in three countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, second right, U.S. National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Alek Skarlatos, right, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, second from left, and U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley take their seats before a press conference held at the US Ambassador's residence in Paris, France, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone helped foil a potentially deadly attack when they subdued a man armed with an assault rifle and other weapons on board a high-speed train bound for Paris two days ago. The man was known to intelligence services in three countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
U.S. Airman Spencer Stone attends a press conference held at the US Ambassador's residence in Paris, France, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. Spencer Stone and two friends, Antony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, helped foil a potentially deadly attack when they subdued a man armed with an assault rifle and other weapons on board a high-speed train bound for Paris two days ago. The man was known to intelligence services in three countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, right, seated next to U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, answers questions during a press conference held at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Paris, France, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. Stone and two friends, Antony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos, helped foil a potentially deadly attack when they subdued a man armed with an assault rifle and other weapons on board a high-speed train bound for Paris two days ago. The man was known to intelligence services in three countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California attends a press conference held at the U.S. Ambassador's residence with Alek Skarlatos and U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, in Paris, France, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone helped foil a potentially deadly attack when they subdued a man armed with an assault rifle and other weapons on board a high-speed train bound for Paris two days ago. The man was known to intelligence services in three countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Alek Skarlatos attends a press conference held at the U.S. Ambassador's residence with Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento University in California, and U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, in Paris, France, Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone helped foil a potentially deadly attack when they subdued a man armed with an assault rifle and other weapons on board a high-speed train bound for Paris two days ago. The man was known to intelligence services in three countries and had ties to radical Islam, authorities said Sunday. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
(From L) US ambassador to France Jane Hartley, off-duty US servicemen Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos smile during a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, 2015, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Off-duty US serviceman Alek Skarlatos looks on during a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, 2015, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Off-duty US servicemen Spencer Stone (R), Alek Skarlatos (2nd R) and US ambassador to France Jane Hartley (L) arrive to attend a press conference at the US embassy in Paris on August 23, 2015, two days after 25-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani opened fire on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. AFP PHOTO / THOMAS SAMSON (Photo credit should read THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images)
Off-duty US Air Force Spencer Stone (L), one of the men to overpower the gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle on a high-speed train, gestures as he leaves the hopistal of Lesquin, northern France on August 22, 2015. On August 21, 2015, a gunman opened fire on the train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. Spencer Stone was first to the gunman who slashed him in the neck and almost sliced off his thumb with a box-cutter. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
Anthony Sadler (L), from Pittsburg, California, and Alek Skarlatos from Roseburg, Oregon, hold their medals as they sit in a restaurant after a brief ceremony in the town of Arras, northern France, on August 21, 2015. The American servicemen overpowered a gunman armed with a Kalashnikov who opened fire on a high-speed train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris on August 20, 2015. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)
In this photo made early Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, image obtained from the Facebook webpage of the mayor of Arras, Fredric Leturque, sits with passengers of the Thalys train who subdued a gunman as they display their medal after being awarded by the mayor of Arras, northern France, with left to right, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, Alek Skarlatos, US National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Briton Chris Norman. A gunman opened fire on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding two people before three American and a Briton passengers subdued him, according to reports. American train passenger Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone was hospitalized with serious wounds after his part in tackling the gunman. (Arras City Hall via AP) 
In this image made from TV, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, left, sits with Alek Skarlatos, US National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, who both helped overpower high-speed train attacker, talk to the media early Saturday Aug. 22, 2015, in Arras, France. Three Americans and a Briton are together being hailed as heroes for tackling and disarming a gunman aboard a high-speed train traveling between Amsterdam and Paris Friday evening. (AP Photo /APTN) 
Off-duty US Air Force Spencer Stone (L), one of the men to overpower the gunman who opened fire with an assault rifle on a high-speed train, gestures as he leaves the hopistal of Lesquin, northern France on August 22, 2015. On August 21, 2015, a gunman opened fire on the train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris, injuring two people before being tackled by several passengers including off-duty American servicemen. Spencer Stone was first to the gunman who slashed him in the neck and almost sliced off his thumb with a box-cutter. (Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN/AFP/Getty Images)
This undated photo provided Saturday Aug. 22, 2015, by the U.S. Air Force showing Airman First Class Spencer Stone, of the 65th Air Base Group, Lajes Air Base, Azores, Portugal. A gunman opened fire with an automatic weapon aboard a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding several people before being subdued by passengers, officials said. Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone moved to subdue the gunman and was seriously injured before going to administer first aid to a wounded passenger, and was hospitalized Saturday after being stabbed in the attack, though the Pentagon said the injury was not life-threatening. (U.S. Air Force via AP Photo)
In this photo made early Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, image obtained from the Facebook webpage of the mayor of Arras, Fredric Leturque, passengers of the Thalys train who subdued a gunman sit together in Arras, northern France, with left to right, Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, Alek Skarlatos, US National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, Briton Chris Norman. A gunman opened fire on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, wounding two people before three American and a Briton passengers subdued him, according to reports. American train passenger Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone was hospitalized with serious wounds after his part in tackling the gunman. (Arras City Hall via AP) 
In this image made from TV, Alek Skarlatos, US National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, and Briton Chris Norman, right, who both helped overpower high-speed train attacker, talk to the media early Saturday Aug. 22, 2015, in Arras, France. Three Americans and a Briton are being hailed as heroes for tackling and disarming a gunman aboard a high-speed train traveling between Amsterdam and Paris Friday evening. (AP Photo /APTN) 
Britain's Chris Norman speaks with the media at the police headquarters in Arras, northern France, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015. A gunman prepared to open fire with an automatic weapon on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris Friday, wounding several people before being subdued by passengers, officials said. Norman, along with two others rushed to gunman and held him until police arrived. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
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