A man photographed alongside a set of terrified New Yorkers fleeing smoke and debris as the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, has died from coronavirus, his family has confirmed. Stephen Cooper, who lived part-time in the Delray Beach area, died on March 28 but the announcement was made by his family more than three months later.
Cooper became famous overnight after a photograph, clicked by the Associated Press, showed him running with several others on that fateful day. The photo was published in several newspapers and magazines. Over the past 19 years, the photograph has been published on numerous occasions, especially on the 9/11 anniversary, helping Cooper attain cult status.
Cooper, who was an electrical engineer by profession, died at the age of 78 at Delray Medical Center after getting infected with Covid-19. He was among the first 138 patients in Palm Beach County in the first month of the pandemic, Cooper's family said.
Cooper was 60 years old when the now-famous photograph was published across the world and is also on display at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in Manhattan. Cooper is seen in a black shirt holding a manila envelope under his arm alongside several others as a cloud of smoke from the collapsing South Tower of the World Trade Center bellowed behind.
"He didn't even know the photograph was taken for some time," said Janet Rashes, his partner for 33 years, adding that Cooper by chance came across the photograph while going through Time magazine one day. "All of a sudden, he's looking in Time magazine one day and he sees himself and says, 'Oh my God. That's me.' He was amazed. Couldn't believe it," added Rashes.
Cooper was delivering documents near the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11, unaware of what had exactly happened when he suddenly heard a police officer yell, "You have to run." Cooper and several other men in the photograph are seen in a desperate sprint to save their lives as a wall of debris from the collapsing tower is seen behind.
A Sense of Pride
Cooper, who ducked to safety into a nearby substation, always maintained a low profile. However, he took pride in looking at the photograph until his last days. "Every year on 9/11, he would go looking for the magazine and say, 'Look, it's here again," said Jessica Rashes, Cooper's 27-year-old daughter. "He would bring it to family barbecues, parties, anywhere he could show it off."
In fact, Cooper bought several copies of that Time magazine and would distribute it among people "like a calling card," said family friend Susan Gould. However, Suzanne Plunkett, who clicked the photograph for Associated Press, said that although she stayed in touch with some of the people in the photo, she never got a chance to meet or know Cooper.
"It is a shame I was never aware of the identity of Mr. Cooper. I'd always wondered about the ones I'd never connected with, so it was an honor for me to hear that Mr. Cooper was proud of his appearance in the photo," Plunkett wrote after Cooper's death in an email to The Palm Beach Post. Cooper is survived by Rashes and their daughter Jessica.