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In a remarkable twist of fate, Alek Skarlatos, one of three American men who prevented a mass shooting on a train in France this summer was saved from experiencing Thursday’s mass shooting at Umpqua Community College — thanks to Dancing with the Stars.
Skarlatos was enrolled this fall at the college where Thursday’s shooting claimed the lives of 10 people including the shooter. But after his world-famous act of bravery in France, Skarlatos was invited to join the cast of Dancing with the Stars — and on Oct. 1, instead of sitting in class in Roseburg, Oregon, the U.S. Army National Guard specialist was rehearsing with his DWTS partner Lindsay Arnold in Los Angeles.
As details of the shooting were still unfolding Thursday morning, Skarlatos appeared with Arnold on Ellen to pre-tape Monday’s show. “I had classes in Snyder Hall,” Skarlatos told DeGeneres. “I mean, it’s a fairly small community college and just the town in general everybody knows each other so with that many deceased I mean everybody’s going to know at least one person … I mean I would have been there today if I didn’t agree to do this show. I had classes picked out and everything.”
Given the tragic events, Skarlatos and Arnold did not preview their dancing skills as planned, but DeGeneres promised she would welcome them back another time to dance, “in some kind of red sequin thing, I would prefer.”
Following his Thursday Ellen taping, Skarlatos returned to Roseburg, the town he has called home for the past six years. Early Friday morning, he spoke with Amy Robach on Good Morning America from the campus of Umpqua Community College.
“It’s just absolutely insane to be in a situation like this especially in my town Roseburg. Something happening of this magnitude is just very rare,” Skarlatos said.
Robach pointed out the fact that if it hadn’t been for his heroism in France which led to his DWTS invitation, Robach would have been on campus.
“Yes, I was enrolled in the reserve academy on Saturday and in Tuesday/Thursday classes. If I didn’t get called for the dancing show, I would have been on campus.”
“So you would have been on campus when the shots rang out,” said Robach, “and I’m sure you would have known what you would have done.”
“Well, I would have tried anyway,” Skarlatos responded.
Robach praised the police response in Roseburg, noting that within eight minutes “they had that shooter down — not surprising knowing this community.”
“No, it’s not, the law enforcement here is excellent,” said Skarlato. “But in any kind of situation like that in a shooting, eight minutes is an eternity.”
Robach then asked the former Marine where he was when he heard the news.
“Well, I was actually in the studio with Lindsey, dancing, and I got a text from one of my friends telling me what had happened and so I looked it up on the internet to confirm it. I was just in total shock and I sat down for a second and then hid in the bathroom so the cameras couldn’t see me,” he said.
“You booked a flight?” asked Robach.
“Yeah. Almost within an hour I decided I’d come here and be with my community,” he said, adding that to his knowledge, all of his immediate family and friends were safe. “Everybody that I’ve contacted has been fine and I’m really grateful for that. My heart really goes out to the people that can’t say the same.”
Updated Oct. 2, 1:10 p.m. A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Skarlatos as a marine. Skarlatos is a member of the Army National Guard stationed in Oregon, where he has attained the rank of specialist.
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