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Man pictured in iconic 9/11 photo dies of coronavirus at 78, family says

Stephen Cooper, who died of COVID-19, can be seen wearing a black shirt and glasses on the far left. He was delivering newspapers when the Twin Towers were hit on September 11, 2001.
Stephen Cooper, who died of COVID-19, can be seen wearing a black shirt and glasses on the far left. He was delivering newspapers when the Twin Towers were hit on September 11, 2001. Suzanne Plunkett / Associated Press

A man pictured running from debris from a crumbling World Trade Center tower on 9/11 has died of coronavirus, his family says.

The iconic photo, taken by former Associated Press photographer Suzanne Plunkett, shows a group of men running as smoke plumes fill the streets near the south tower as it fell. To the left is Stephen Cooper, an electrical engineer from New York.

Cooper, who lived part-time in Delray Beach, Fla., died on March 28 at the Delray Medical Center due to COVID-19 at age 78, the Associated Press (AP) reports.

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The photo was widely published in newspapers and magazines worldwide and is featured in the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York.

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“He didn’t even know the photograph was taken,” Janet Rashes, Cooper’s partner for 33 years, told AP. “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.”

Cooper, who was 60 at the time, was delivering documents near the World Trade Center when the attacks occurred. He didn’t know what had happened, Rashes explained, when he heard a cop yell: “You have to run.”

He sought shelter in a nearby subway station.

“Every year on 9/11, he would go looking for the magazine and say, ’Look, it’s here again,” Jessica Rashes, Cooper’s 27-year-old daughter, said. “He would bring it to family barbecues, parties, anywhere he could show it off.”

Click to play video '9/11: The timeline of a tragedy' 9/11: The timeline of a tragedy
9/11: The timeline of a tragedy
Susan Gould, a longtime friend, said Cooper was proud of the photo, purchasing multiple copies of Time and handing them out “like a calling card.” She said Cooper shrank a copy of the photo, laminated it and kept it in his wallet.

“Stephen was a character,” Gould said.

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On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Plunkett got an emergency page from her editors. Turning on her television, she saw what had happened to the towers and rushed down to Fulton Street and Broadway, where she shot this photo along with 12 others.

“He sounded like a really gregarious, warm-hearted man,” she told CNN. “I’ve been in contact with some of those people in the shot, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. I’d always wondered about the ones I’d never connected with, so it was an honour for me to hear that Mr. Cooper was proud of his appearance in the photo.”

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“I would’ve loved to talk to Mr. Cooper about that day. It would’ve been cathartic for me to talk with him and to reflect on what happened to us both in the years that followed,” the photographer continued.

“It is a shame I was never aware of the identity of Mr. Cooper,” Plunkett told The Palm Beach Post.

— With files from the Associated Press

meaghan.wray@globalnews.ca

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