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The photographer Shannon Stapleton had a routine job when the first plane flew into the World Trade Center

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Rescue workers carried Father Mychal Judge out of the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001. Photo: Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Ciaran O’Neill

It was an unforgettable photo in a day full of shocking images. Five men are fighting to carry a man through the rubble after the first of the World Trade Center towers collapsed during the September 11, 2001 attacks. In contrast to the exhaustion and fear on the men’s faces, the man being carried appears peaceful.

Father Mychal Richter died while he was alive and helping others. The Irish-American priest is recorded as a victim 0001 of the 2,996 people who died in the attacks on the United States 20 years ago this week, September 11, 2001.

The priest, the New Yorkers’ chaplain Fire department rushed to the scene after the first plane crashed into Manhattan buildings.

He wanted to see what he could do to help but died when the first tower collapsed. The photo in which he is being carried away was taken by Reuters photographer Shannon Stapleton. Within a few minutes it was shared around the world.

The first plane hijacked by the terrorists crashed into the north tower at 8:46 a.m. Firefighters from all over New York were dispatched to the scene of the accident. They were quickly accompanied by Father Richter.

As the rescue efforts continued, a second hijacked plane crashed into the south tower at 9:03 a.m. America was under attack.

September 11, 2001 had started like a normal day for Stapleton. He had moved from his home in Ohio to New York in 1996 in search of work. The then 32-year-old worked as a freelancer for several years, but had secured a full-time position at the Reuters news agency in 2001.

“I did this gig and my assignment editor called and said, ‘Hey, you can go down to World Trade Center? It was hit by an airplane. I said, ‘Well, I’m in the middle of my job right now. I’ll be down there as soon as possible ‘. “

But after seeing the footage of the crash on the television screens in Times Square, he knew this was not an ordinary situation.

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“I got on the subway and it was really bizarre because no one was in it. Maybe a couple of people. It was a beautiful day in September and it was just really scary, ”Stapleton told the Sunday Independent last week from his home in New York. “I got off the subway on Canal Street. I ran up and people ran the other way. I asked someone, ‘What’s wrong?’ They said, ‘We are under attack. The second tower was hit ’. So I said to myself: ‘Wow, I’m about to tell the perhaps most important piece of my career right in my backyard’. “

” I raised my camera, took three pictures and ducked into a small anteroom to myself to protect.

“After that it was really smoky and there are papers everywhere and you feel like in this apocalyptic film.

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“It’s that cool autumn day in New York and everyone is covered in ash. I take pictures and go down to the pit and stop, take pictures, stop, take pictures. ”

When he reached the World Trade Center site, Stapleton was climbing over a large pile of rubble. With a long lens, he could see a group of five men carrying someone. It was Ms. Richter.

Mychal Judge was born Robert Emmett Judge in Brooklyn in 1933 to Irish immigrants from Co Leitrim.

His father Michael was from the village of Keshcarrigan, while his mother Mary (née Fallon) from Drumkeerin.

The couple had three children: Robert, his twin sister Dympna and their older sister Erin. They spent their early years growing up during the Great Depression, and life got tougher after Michael died when his children were young.

To support his family, Robert polished shoes at Penn Station in New York . He also often visited a nearby church where he came into contact with priests of the Franciscan Order.

Impressed by their lack of interest in material goods, he decided that the priesthood should be his life. After entering a seminary, he took the name Mychal to distinguish himself from all other Father Michaels. After ordination, he served in parishes in Boston and New York.

He suffered from alcoholism for several years, but overcame his addiction and began supporting others who were fighting a similar struggle.

Father Judge, who is gay was – something he only shared with his closest friends – was also a great advocate for the gay community and others faced with prejudice and hardship.

He loved New York and was proud to be chaplain in 1992 municipal fire department was appointed. He regularly participated in emergency situations to assist fire teams. Therefore, when he heard the news of the impact of the first tower, he immediately set off for the World Trade Center.

It is believed that Father Richter at the scene of the crime when the south tower collapsed at 9:59 a.m., held the final rites carried out by a firefighter. Originally he was believed to have been hit by falling debris, but it was later discovered that he had died of a heart attack. He was 68.

Stapleton knew that the man he could see through his lens, being carried by the five men, was dead. “Unfortunately, I knew what a dead person looked like. He was definitely dead. It wasn’t that they were trying to save his life, “he said.

After finding Father Judge’s body, four men sat him down – the firefighters Zachary Vause, Christian Waugh, Cop Bill Cosgrove and Kevin Allen of the New York Bureau of Emergency Management – on a chair. As they walked through the rubble, they were joined by John Maguire, who worked for Goldman Sachs at the World Trade Center.

“I started taking pictures and the firefighter I later met, Chris Waugh, was yelling kind of at me, but I was just in the zone and paying no attention to it. And I took these photos.

“Sometimes I say that the digital camera might have saved my life because I looked down and saw what I had from Father Richter. I had no idea who it was, but I knew it was a pretty important photo.

“When I looked into the camera, I thought, ‘Wow, I have a lot of pictures here’. The adrenaline was still high, but I thought, ‘I have to get out of here before the second tower falls’. “

He took refuge in a nearby Irish pub before heading back to the Reuters office made. Very soon his picture of Father Richter was seen in newsrooms in the United States and around the world.

Stapleton returned to the World Trade Center that evening and ended up spending several nights with the rescue teams. His pictures continued to capture the horror of what was happening.

“I came to 59th Street Bridge,” he recalls. “I’m a huge Jerry Garcia fan and I will never forget to hear his version of Visions of Johanna, which is a Bob Dylan tune and really cries, really sobs. Finally let all those emotions out. ”

That day, a letter addressed to Stapleton arrived at the Reuters New York office. It was from Father Richter’s sister Dympna Jessich.

“I’m going to the office and there is this letter. I still didn’t even know who he [Fr. Judge] was. But I found out that day that it was his funeral. And then all these things came to light about Fr. Mychal Judge, the fire department chaplain.

“The letter from Dympna and her niece said, ‘Shannon, thank you for taking this picture of my brother and our family member have’. They said, “Hopefully this picture shows how heroic he was – and it will be some kind of legacy for him”. I just thought ‘Wow’. ”

The photo allowed the world to learn more about the life of Father Richter, and his legacy certainly lives on.

In honor of his connection and love for Ireland Ireland opened a P. Mychal Judge Memorial Park in Keshcarrigan in 2005. The opening was carried out by his sister Dympna, who died earlier this year at the age of 88. Her sister Erin Judge McTernan died in 2008.

Every year, on the Sunday before the anniversary of September 11th, friends of Father Judge meet in New York for a memorial walk that follows the path he took that day has.

His story touched so many people. The New York Fire Department is creating a museum exhibition in his memory. It will share an extensive archive of his life and work, compiled by Fr. Chris Keenan, who replaced him as the fire department chaplain / p> “P. Chris started collecting everything and everything that had to do with Fr. Mychal after his death, ”he said last week. “This included things as simple as photocopies of newspaper articles to the Legion of Honor medal that he received posthumously from the Republic of France.” Commemorate September.

Stapleton still works for Reuters. Last week he photographed the flood disaster in New York, in which at least 13 people were killed.

He was back on the World Trade Center website to cover previous anniversaries, but he is not a fan of such occasions.

“To be honest, I’m not one of those anniversary boys, but I think 20 is a big deal and I think about it every day – especially given what’s going on in the world right now. It’s almost scary, “he said.

” I’ve had tough times and there have been times when I said, ‘Hey P. Mike, can you help me man? Because nothing else works’.

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