When Placido Perez closes his eyes, he can still see the World Trade Center towers beneath him. On weekends, he would sometimes fly his red-and-white Cessna along the Hudson River, taking selfies with the towers in the background, stark against a cerulean sky. “I still look at the pictures all the time,” he says. “I remember the good times. It’s what gets you through.”

Perez also has pictures he took of the September 11, 2001, attacks. He was standing at the base of the towers that morning with a digital camera, not far from where he worked as a manager at a telecommunications company. “I was on my way to work, and, boom, I heard a turbine smash into one of the buildings,” he says. “I remember the sounds and the people jumping [from the towers]. That marble plaza outside of the towers where the globe sculpture was—remember it had speakers? Muzak was playing. They couldn’t stop the music. It was automatic. People were jumping, and debris was flying. It was awful.”

Perez, a licensed emergency medical technician, stayed downtown to help people trying to escape the burning buildings. The next day, he returned to the site and volunteered alongside thousands of police officers, firefighters, construction workers and others to search for survivors. He didn’t leave Ground Zero for a week, working 12- to 14-hour shifts. When he needed rest, he slept at the site.

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