Catholic pilgrim goes viral as ‘backpack hero’ after stopping mass stabbing in France

Paris, France Paris, France | Pedro Lastra / Unsplash (CC0)

A 24-year-old Catholic Frenchman named Henri went viral Thursday as the “backpack hero” after he stopped a potentially deadly knife attack at a playground in southeastern France by chasing away the attacker with a backpack.

French newspaper 20 Minutes reported on Henri’s heroic response to the shocking attack.

The perpetrator, only partially identified by French authorities as Abdalmasih H., is a 31-year-old Syrian refugee. On June 8 he unleashed a sudden stabbing attack on children and adults at a playground in the town of Annecy.

Two adults, men over 70, and four children, all 3 years old and younger, were seriously injured and later hospitalized due to the attack.

Henri, who did not give his last name to the media, told reporters he was in the town of Annecy as part of a nine-month pilgrimage to visit France’s cathedrals on foot.

When he saw the attack begin to unfold, Henri sprung into action.

“That’s when your brain turns off and you act like an animal, by instinct,” Henri told reporters. “I didn’t even think.”

Video taken by bystanders during the attack shows Henri repeatedly swinging his backpack and running after Abdalmasih, which prompts the attacker to flee the scene. 

“You try to act as you can, with what you have available to you,” Henri said. 

According to the New York Times, Henri told reporters that a city employee with a shovel joined his efforts and assisted him in drawing the attacker away from the children. 

Abdalmasih was subsequently arrested by French authorities.

Henri has since been widely hailed as a hero for disregarding his own safety in his attempt to stop the attacker. French media believes he most likely prevented the injury or even deaths of many more children and adults at the park.

French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited the victims in the hospital, called the attack on the children “the most barbaric act possible” and expressed his “gratitude and pride” to those who responded, including Henri.

A tweet by French journalist Hugo Clement praises Henri for risking his life to protect the children, concluding: “You are a hero and the whole of France says to you: THANK YOU.” 

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Henri stayed at the park after the attack to pray for the victims, according to the New York Times.

20 Minutes reported Henri humbly saying that he “acted like any Frenchman would have done.”

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