Turn on the news, and it can seem like we’re living in a dystopian nightmare. Terrorists are exploding bombs in airports. Gunmen are going on the rampage in schools. Chemical weapons are appearing in ISIS’s arsenal. At times like this, you’d be forgiven for thinking there was no good left in our world at all.
Luckily, things aren’t as bleak as they seem. Even at the worst times, amid deepening divisions, there are still heroes. People who find themselves faced with unimaginable horror yet still manage to dig deep and do the right thing. Here are 10 people who stood up to death and destruction and, in doing so, proved that humanity is still capable of amazing actions.
10 The Bataclan Savior
On November 13, 2015, the world was shaken by the worst terror attack that Europe had seen in a decade. Gunmen and bombers attacked Paris, claiming 130 lives—more than the 2011 Norway attack and Britain’s 7/7 combined.
The worst of these assaults occurred at the Bataclan concert hall. In a two-hour rampage during a death metal gig, Islamist gunmen slaughtered 90 people. Yet they could have easily killed far more. That they didn’t is thanks to one anonymous security guard known only as Didi.
A working class Muslim, Didi had expected to spend the evening doing nothing more strenuous than arguing with drunks. Then the gunmen came. Realizing what was about to happen, Didi immediately threw open the nearest emergency exit, undoubtedly saving lives. But the truly heroic moment came when he heard the shooting start and figured out how many people must still be trapped. Reasoning that the only way to save them was to open more emergency exits, Didi ran back inside the venue, right into the heart of the massacre.
What followed wouldn’t seem out of place in a heroic World War II film. Dodging bullets, Didi threw open more doors and guided terrified civilians into the street. When another gunman started shooting outside, Didi led dozens to the safety of a nearby apartment. Then he ran straight back into the Bataclan to save even more people. When he’d saved them, he went right back in again. He kept on doing this until the attack was finally over.
It’s impossible to know how many Didi saved that night. According to survivors, the total may be as high as 500. All we know for sure is that, without his extraordinary heroism, France’s worst-ever terror attack could have been unimaginably worse. Like a true hero, Didi has never released his real name or sought publicity for his actions.
9 The Hero Chef Of 9/11
The first responders of 9/11 are rightly lauded for their borderline-insane levels of bravery in the face of utter devastation. Yet there were other heroes that day. Heroes who were just ordinary people doing ordinary jobs. One such hero was chef Benjamin Keefe Clark.
Clark was known more for his meatloaf and genial humor than his bravery. All that would change on the morning of September 11, 2001. As Clark was preparing a meal for the Fiduciary Trust Company, a plane slammed into the North Tower. From the 96th floor of the South Tower, Clark’s clients looked on in shock. It was at that point that the chef realized that he needed to get everyone out.
Understand, this wasn’t anywhere in Clark’s job description. He could just as easily have wandered over to the shattered windows to gawp with the others. Instead, his latent hero genes kicked in and the chef took charge. Surrounded by shell-shocked workers, Clark succeeded in almost single-handedly evacuating the entire 96th floor.
Much later, officials at Fiduciary would credit Clark with saving hundreds of lives. Without his quick thinking, many more people would have been on the 96th floor when Flight 175 impacted the South Tower between floors 77–85. Thanks to his efforts, they were safely on the ground.
Sadly, Clark was not among them. Moments before the second plane slammed into the tower, the hero chef had stopped off on the 78th floor to help a disabled woman. When the South Tower was hit, he was killed instantly.
8 The Father Who Stopped A Beirut Bomber
The day before the Paris attacks, the Lebanese capital of Beirut was hit by the country’s worst bombing since the end of the civil war. Forty-three people were killed when two ISIS recruits targeted a mosque and a bakery moments after evening prayers ended. Yet this death toll could have been even worse had it not been for one ordinary dad: Adel Termos.
A 32-year-old father, Termos seemed to be nobody special. Out with his family and six-year-old daughter, he escaped the first bombing by the skin of his teeth. Most of us would have probably reacted by collapsing into a gibbering heap at such a close call but not Termos. As crowds gathered to help the wounded, the young dad noticed a suspicious-looking guy approach. The second bomber was apparently about to walk into the crowd of first responders and kill them, too. He hadn’t counted on Adel Termos.
With no thought for his own safety, Termos rushed the bomber and tackled him to the ground. The guy’s suicide belt detonated, at which point he was still too far away from the crowd to cause any more fatalities (although many were injured). Termos died in the blast. However, his actions are thought to have saved dozens of lives. We can only hope that Termos is chilling out in paradise right now, laughing as his killer is shipped down to Hell for his evil actions.
7 The Sandy Hook Teacher Who Saved 15 Young Lives
On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and shot dead 20 kindergartners and six teachers. It was one of the worst mass shootings in US history in terms of loss of life and the ages of those killed. Yet even a scumbag as big as Lanza couldn’t stop his victims’ basic human decency from shining through.
You may have heard of Victoria Leigh Soto. A 27-year-old teacher, Soto died trying to shield her students from Lanza and saved several lives as a result. Since then, she’s been deservedly hailed as a hero and had a nonprofit set up in her name. Less famous but no less heroic was Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis. A first-grade teacher in an adjacent classroom, she managed to hide herself and 15 children from the gunman’s assault.
Like Soto, Roig-DeBellis displayed incredibly quick thinking. Her classroom housed a tiny, single-occupancy children’s bathroom. Despite hearing gunshots echoing outside, Roig-DeBellis managed to fit all 15 students inside, literally piling them on top of one another. Then she pulled a storage cart in front of the door to disguise their hiding place, locked herself in with her kids, and prayed.
It seemed someone was listening. When a knock sounded on the door, it wasn’t Lanza looking for more victims. It was the SWAT team that had just arrived on the scene. Thanks to Roig-DeBellis’s actions, more children are alive today than otherwise would have been.
6 The Brussels Baggage Handler Who Walked Into Chaos
When a bomb explodes in the immediate vicinity, most people either hit the dirt or run as fast as they can in the opposite direction. Alphonse Lyoura isn’t “most people.” A Brussels airport baggage handler, he was working the morning of March 22, 2016, when two ISIS-inspired former criminals walked in with suitcase bombs and massacred 17 people. (An additional 14 would die in a related bombing at a metro station one hour later).
Amid the smoke and screams of the injured, survivors ran for the exits. But not Alphonse Lyoura. Not knowing if the attack was over or what might happen to him, this ordinary man dropped what he was doing and walked into the heart of the carnage with no thought on his mind but to help the survivors.
Although the attack was over, Lyoura’s actions still proved decisive. With remarkable composure, he helped as many injured people tend to their wounds or get to the exits as he could. With no medical training, he was able to stanch blood flows and get seven people outside where paramedics attended to them.
Witnesses later said that the sight of Lyoura, calmly walking through the wreckage, was enough to give them hope. And on a day as dark as the one that had just hit Brussels, hope was certainly what was needed.
5 The Quick-Thinking Japanese Doctor
So far, everyone on our list has exposed themselves to danger to save or help others. That isn’t the case with Hiroshi Morita. Nonetheless, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t think Morita was a hero. Thanks to his quick thinking, he managed to save dozens of lives and hundreds of people from debilitating injuries. And he did it all while being miles and miles from the site of the disaster.
It was March 20, 1995, a cool spring day in Japan. At the height of rush hour, five cultists riding separate lines of the Tokyo subway simultaneously punctured bags of sarin, releasing a toxic cloud of nerve gas. It was the worst bioterror attack in history. Twelve people died, choking on their own blood, their bodies wracked with painful spasms. Over 6,000 were injured. Without Morita, those shocking numbers could have been even higher.
The cult that attacked Tokyo was the same cult that had released a cloud of sarin in Matsumoto less than one year earlier, killing eight. Dr. Morita just happened to be one of the first responders to that case, giving him an excellent grounding in treating sarin poisoning. When news of the Tokyo attack spread, Morita was the first to recognize the symptoms. Commandeering his entire staff, he got them to individually phone every single hospital in Tokyo, explaining that the gas was sarin and how to treat it.
Until Morita began frantically calling, no one knew that the gas was sarin. With delayed treatment, sarin poisoning can easily lead to lifelong disabilities, coma, or even death. Thanks to Morita’s quick thinking, literally thousands of people that day were given the treatment they so desperately needed.
4 The By-The-Book Cop Who Caught The Oklahoma Bomber
Somewhere in rural Oklahoma lives one of America’s most unlikely heroes. Charlie Hanger is a former Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper who was so officious and by the book that people joked that he would ticket his own mother. Where hero cops in movies might be the renegades who throw out the rule book, Hanger was the sort of guy who made sure that he followed it to the letter. Yet this taciturn, obedient guy did something no number of more conventional heroes could have done. He’s the guy who caught the Oklahoma City bomber.
The day was April 19, 1995. A gigantic fertilizer bomb hidden in a truck had just leveled the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, killing 149 adults and 19 children. Law enforcement from all over the state flooded toward the city, with Charlie Hanger among them.
Like everyone else, his mind must have been full of shock and horror. Unlike everyone else, though, Hanger retained his cop’s eye for detail and his own desire to follow the rules. So when a rusting, yellow 1977 Mercury Marquis with no license plate passed him on Interstate 35, he switched his focus from the bombing and pulled the guy over.
The person who just happened to be driving that beat-up old car? Timothy McVeigh.
At the time, no one thought that a right-wing extremist was responsible for the blast. Following the 1993 WTC bombing, Muslims were the prime suspects. Anyone else would have probably let McVeigh go with a ticket. But not Hanger. He booked the guy, and when McVeigh reached for his weapon, Hanger got there first. McVeigh was taken into custody in the small town of Perry, where the FBI eventually found him. The Oklahoma bomber was caught, all thanks to one trooper’s bravery and desire to play by the rules.
3 The Holocaust Survivor Who Sacrificed Himself To Save His Students
The Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 remains the deadliest campus shooting in American history. In two separate sprees two hours apart, Seung-Hui Cho slaughtered 32 fellow students and teachers in an attack that will hopefully never be surpassed. Incredibly, things could have been significantly worse. If it hadn’t been for Liviu Librescu, the death toll could have been as high as 54.
A 76-year-old engineering professor, Librescu already had enough heroism under his belt for one life. A Jew born in Romania, he first survived the Holocaust and then defied Romania’s notoriously brutal communist dictatorship. So when Cho decided to target Librescu’s 23 students, the elderly professor did what was only natural for such a hero: He sacrificed himself to let them escape.
Telling his students to get out the windows, the Holocaust survivor used his own body to block the door shut even as Cho fired volley after volley into him. Although Librescu died a painful death, he bought his class just enough time to get away. Of the 23 who’d been in the room, only one was killed by Cho. The rest got out seconds before he came in the door, guns blazing. Thanks to the kindly professor’s sacrifice, 22 young people got a chance at a future that would otherwise have been stolen from them.
2 The Gay Couple Who Rowed Anders Breivik’s Teen Victims To Safety
On July 22, 2011, far-right extremist Anders Breivik detonated a car bomb in Oslo, killing eight people and injuring over 200. He then took a boat to Utoya Island and massacred 69 teenagers at a left-wing summer camp organized by the ruling Labour Party. It remains the deadliest terror attack perpetrated by a lone individual in modern European history. Yet even in the depths of this horror, two heroes managed to emerge.
Their names were Hege Dalen and Toril Hansen, a married lesbian couple. The two were camping on the other side of the lake from Utoya Island when the shooting started. They could hear the screams. But rather than hunker down or call the cops, they did something so insanely heroic that we can only salute them for it. The two women got in their boat and rowed right into the thick of the shooting to try and rescue as many teenagers as possible.
Since their boat was small, this required many return journeys. Even after Breivik repeatedly shot at the boat, leaving bullet holes in the hull, the women kept on frantically rowing kids back and forth between Utoya and safety. Over the course of four trips, they managed to rescue 40 teenagers. Without their insane bravery, the death toll from Breivik’s dual terror attacks could have surpassed 100.
Perhaps the best part is that Hege and Toril were everything that Breivik claimed to hate. The lesbians were exactly the sort of people that the sick monster thought were ruining Norway. Yet when it came down to it, it was the humanity of this unassuming gay couple that shone through, rather than the bile and hatred of Anders Breivik.
1 The 15-Year-Old Nobody Who Gave His Life To Save His Classmates
Chances are, you’ve never heard of Aitizaz Hasan. Why should you have? A 15-year-old troublemaker from a dirt-poor family in the middle of nowhere, Hasan was seemingly destined for oblivion. Yet his name will live on among those who knew him. Why? Because under his disobedient surface, Hasan was a kid who was willing to sacrifice his life to save hundreds of others.
It was early 2014 in Pakistan’s troubled northwest province, long a breeding ground for terrorism. Hasan and some friends had been sent outside for arriving late at their one-room school in the extremely poor village of Hangu. As they larked around outside, they saw a grown man approach. Strapped to his body was a suicide bomb.
Hasan’s friends reacted as any normal teenagers would: They ran for their lives. But Hasan was no normal kid. Faced with a fully grown killer intent on slaughtering innocent children, he decided to stand his ground. As the bomber approached, Hasan charged him, tackling him to the ground.
The impact caused the bomb to detonate, killing both the attacker and Hasan. But it also saved many lives. The school in Hangu was a largely open space crammed with 2,000 students. In such a location, the shock wave from the bomb would have been unimpeded, massacring dozens. Hundreds of teenagers could have died. Instead, thanks to one young boy’s bravery, they lived.
The sad part is that the name Aitizaz Hasan is barely known outside of that one area of Pakistan. Here’s a kid who gave his life standing up to extremists when no one would have blamed him for running away. For that, he and his sacrifice deserve to be better known.