FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2015
Auto Insurers of Virginia would like to take a moment to thank hero Mark Moogalian, brother of our customer Greg Moogalian, for his bravery in France a few weeks ago. Our President, David Archibald, has been friends with some of the Moogalian family for over 30 years. Mark saved a lot of lives with his bravery and we (and the whole community) are extremely proud of him.
Three American tourists received France’s highest decoration Monday from French President Francois Hollande for their roles last week in thwarting a massacre aboard an Amsterdam-to-Paris high-speed passenger train.
But a fourth hero, former Midlothian resident Mark Moogalian — apparently the man who first wrestled an automatic rifle away from the gunman and then was critically shot — remained largely to himself Monday.
“He called me Saturday,” Charles M. Moogalian said of his oldest son, 51-year-old Mark, one of six children. “He sounded strong, but (Monday) it was difficult and he seemed much weaker.”
The very private family remained largely out of sight. But a sister, who asked not to be named, said Moogalian may have suffered a punctured lung and is feeling numbness in an arm after the gunman fired into Moogalian’s back with the bullet exiting through the front of his throat.
“We are feeling positive, but it is all very difficult,” the sister said. “We absolutely love him and we are incredibly proud.”
Earlier this year, Moogalian and his wife, who also was aboard the targeted train ride, had traveled to a Richmond-area hospital to be with his dying mother.
“She was always his biggest fan,” the sister said. “Her eyes would just light up whenever she received a CD in the mail of his newest song.” Constance Moogalian died in June.
Mark Moogalian, a 1982 graduate of Midlothian High School (now the Midlothian Middle School building) was a three-year member of the football team and is recalled by some teammates as more into the Grateful Dead than blocking and tackling.
“Mark and I were on the football team together,” emailed teammate Stan Yukevich, now an international lawyer based in Japan. “Terrific guy, smart, great sense of humor. I’m not surprised that he had the courage and initiative to take such a risk to save others. I really hope that he’s okay.”
In a ceremony Monday in the ornate Elysée Palace, Hollande lauded longtime friends from the United States — off-duty servicemen Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos and student Anthony Sadler — as men “the whole world admires” for their “courage, your sangfroid, your spirit of solidarity.” He pinned the Legion d’Honneur medal to each man’s chest, kissing each recipient on both cheeks.
A fifth man, Briton Chris Norman, 62, also was honored and credited with binding gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani’s wrists.
“You have shown us that, faced with terror, we have the power to resist. You have given us a lesson in courage, in will, and therefore hope,” Hollande said, according to news service stories.
Hollande also acknowledged that Moogalian intervened. The French president is expected to honor Moogalian as well at a later date when he recovers. Moogalian is the only one of the subduers who lives full time in Paris.
News accounts and the sequence of events that took place remain largely unconfirmed by authorities, but Moogalian is believed to be the person who initially disarmed the attacker of his automatic rifle.
It was at that point that the gunman used a handgun to shoot Moogalian.
El-Khazzani was subsequently disabled and subdued by the other men, but it’s unclear what each of the passengers did and in what sequence.
Moogalian graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1986 and is part of a family of Armenian descent with deep roots in Virginia. Relatives operated a grocery for many years in the Hopewell area.
“We couldn’t be more proud,” said an uncle, Harry Moogalian. He said in an interview Monday morning that the family is still trying to sort out the sequence of events that left the author and musician shot and hospitalized.
Moogalian’s wife told Europe-1 radio Monday that he, too, “is among the heroes in this story.”
Isabella Risacher-Moogalian described hiding behind train seats from the attacker and then seeing her husband wounded.
“He looked at me and said, ‘I’m hit, I’m hit.’ He thought it was over and he was going to die,” she said.
The British newspaper The Telegraph quoted Moogalian’s sister Julia as saying the gunman was able to pull another weapon and shoot her brother, who suffered nerve damage as the bullet passed through his body.
According to The Telegraph, Moogalian made sure his wife was behind a seat before confronting the gunman and taking his weapon.
Moogalian’s sister said, “There’s a video of him saying, ‘Help me’ — he thought he was losing so much blood he would die.” The newspaper reported on its website that Moogalian was doing well in the hospital despite the ordeal.
“We’re extremely proud of him,” the sister was quoted as saying.
Moogalian’s uncle described his nephew as a free spirit who recently wrote a vaguely autobiographical novel, called “Mr. Farride,” about a man living on a houseboat on the Seine River in Paris, is married and teaches English at the Sorbonne.
“He has taken a much different path than much of the family and what he has accomplished has been very much on his own,” Harry Moogalian said.
Mark Moogalian dedicated the book to his wife and father. The sister who asked not to be named said Monday that her brother settled on a houseboat himself and still lives there with his wife.
“He was determined to go to Europe, and by the time he got there he had no money. He sold everything he owned to make the trip,” the sister said. “He started singing and walking the streets of Paris and was basically homeless until someone found his (few) belongings and offered him work and a place to live, the houseboat.”
“When he was able to make his way with nothing, with no money, I knew he was a strong and courageous man,” said his father, a retired tobacco company executive at Liggett & Myers Tobacco Co. “So it did not surprise me what I have seen him do on the train. He is a good, good person.”
An artist, sculptor and musician, Moogalian formed a duo called Secret Season with his wife, whom he married in 2003. He teaches the English language at the Sorbonne and his wife teaches French.
The family moved to Richmond from Durham, N.C., and Moogalian has written that rivers — the Eno in North Carolina, the James in Richmond and the Seine in Paris — have always been central to his life.
A short biography states that after traveling to France he busked from London to Venice, taking in the culture and writing songs. He paints, sculpts, writes and plays music for a living. “The trip to Europe was a turning point in his life,” according to a short biography accompanying his novel.
Moogalian was the founder of two musical groups in Richmond, Looks Like Bamboo and Javaman. His range of abilities as a musician stretches from the guitar to the hand saw. Both musical groups were widely praised by area critics for their musical ability.
His senior year in 1982, Moogalian was co-named “most talkative” at Midlothian High School, according to the school’s yearbooks.
He went on to study at VCU and became the lead singer and primary songwriter for Looks Like Bamboo, according to longtime friend Kendra Bailey Morris, who was a member of the band and still lives in Richmond.
“Just a super, super nice guy, a laid-back guy,” Morris said, adding that it wasn’t surprising that he became a professor in France, and that he loved writing and was a deep thinker.
“He’s one of the kindest individuals I’ve ever known,” Morris said, adding that she’s “so proud of him” and wants him to know that she and his other friends are praying for his recovery.
Moogalian enjoyed debating and having long, in-depth conversations, said Morris, adding that he’s a philosopher of sorts.
She also added that it’s not surprising that he sprang into action quickly, because he’s very observant and selfless.
“I’m not surprised at all that he rose to the occasion … and just was thinking of other people, because that was definitely in line with his personality and the kind of person he is, just a good-hearted person,” Morris said. “He’s just a true hero, and everybody’s so proud of him here.”
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