Stephen Cooper was delivering political papers in lower Manhattan on September 11, 2001, when a police officer told him and others to run, Janet Rashes, his partner of 33 years, told CNN.
Cooper is seen on the far left of the photo, wearing glasses and a black shirt, as he and others run from billowing smoke and debris.
“He never realized he was photographed until a couple weeks later,” Rashes said. “He was looking in a newspaper or magazine and he saw his picture shown.”
Cooper, 78, passed away in Florida on March 28, Rashes said.
“He was very, very proud,” Rashes said. “He would keep a picture in his wallet and show people he just met.”
Suzanne Plunkett, the then-Associated Press photographer who captured the famous image, told CNN that she has stayed in touch with some of the people in the photo but never got to meet Cooper.
“He sounded like a really gregarious, warm-hearted man,” she said in an email to 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 honor for me to hear that Mr. Cooper was proud of his appearance in the photo.”
The morning of September 11, Plunkett said she received an emergency page from by her AP editors. After turning on the TV to see smoke billowing from the south tower, she raced downtown to Fulton St. and Broadway, where she managed to snap 13 frames before being ordered by an NYPD officer to run and seek cover, she said.
After uploading a few of the photos to her editors in a nearby shop, Plunkett said the photo went on to be published around the world.
“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,” Plunkett said.
Cooper is survived by Rashes and their daughter, Jessica.