You probably never met Stephen Cooper, but chances are you’ve seen him before.
On Sept. 11, 2001, Cooper was photographed fleeing smoke and debris as the south tower of the World Trade Center crumbled just a block away. The picture by an Associated Press photographer was published in newspapers and magazines all over the world and has been seen by many others at the 9/11 Memorial Museum in New York.
“He didn’t even know the photograph was taken,” said Janet Rashes, Cooper’s partner for 33 years. “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, an electrical engineer from New York who lived part-time in the Delray Beach area, died March 28 at Delray Medical Center from coronavirus. He was 78. Rashes said Cooper was on his way to deliver documents near the World Trade Center, unaware of what had taken place that morning, when he heard a police officer yell, “You have to run.”
The photo shows Cooper, 60, with a manila envelope tucked under his left arm, and several other men in a desperate sprint as a massive wall of debris from the collapsing tower races up behind them. Cooper escaped into a nearby subway station.
“Every year on 9/11, he would go looking for the magazine and say, ’Look, it’s here again,’ ” said Jessica Rashes, 27, Cooper’s daughter. “He would bring it to family barbecues, parties, anywhere he could show it off.” 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. Suzanne Plunkett, the AP photographer who snapped the shot, wrote that she’d been in touch with two of the people in the photo, but Cooper was not among them.
“It is a shame I was never aware of the identity of Mr. Cooper,” Plunkett wrote after his death in an email to The Palm Beach Post. Though Cooper made the wise decision to flee trouble on 9/11, that was not in his nature, Janet Rashes said. “He was a fighter,” she said. That spirit was manifested in the politics of Edgemere, New York, a struggling neighborhood in the borough of Queens on the Rockaway peninsula where Cooper owned a home much of his life.