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Jacksonville woman explains why men in iconic 9/11 ground zero photos are heroes

A Jacksonville woman with a special connection to an iconic 9/11 ground zero photo, shares why the people in the photo are heroes.

The anniversary of Sept. 11 extends far beyond the actual date of the attacks.

This time 18 years ago, in the days following the attacks, first responders were digging through the rubble to find survivors. Funerals were being planned. Thousands were unaccounted for across New York City.

Still, the tragedy was met with unity.

Bianca Navarrete was 10 years old at the time. 

 “I was in fourth grade,” Navarrete said. “They just said, ‘Hey, your parents are picking you up,’ my mom was in full panic mode.”

“We couldn’t get through to my godfather, my dad’s friends, my uncle or his brother,” she said.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Navarrete lived in Florida, but she is a New York native. Her family made the move south shortly after her father experienced the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. He worked on the 69th floor. 

His friend John Abruzzo was a paraplegic. 

“My dad and my godfather had to carry him down," Navarrete said. "They made it to about the 55th floor where they made it into a bank and waited for fire rescue."

After that happened, she said they had a special chair made for their friend, which they hoped they’d never have to use.

But it came back to that on 9/11. 

Her godfather, Gerald Simpkins, put Abruzzo on the specially designed chair as soon as they all realized what was happening to the Twin Towers. 

“The chair broke as they were carrying him down the stairwell on 9/11,” she said. 

So they left the chair behind and made it out just minutes before the first tower fell.

Her godfather, Gerald Simpkins, can remember it like it was yesterday.

He says they made it out of the tower at 10:20 a.m. The first tower fell at 10:28 a.m. They escaped with eight minutes to spare.  

They were immediately told to find shelter because he says there were bodies falling where they were standing from people jumping or falling.

Navarrete calls him a hero.

On Wednesday night she’ll be running in the 9/11 Heroes Run in Jacksonville Beach. The race kicks off at 6:30 p.m. and benefits families and first responders impacted by 9/11. 

She and her godfather both believe 9/11 should be a national holiday to mourn the lives lost.

They also both encourage people to make an effort to visit the 9/11 museum in person so the stories that are shared there can be passed on for generations to come.

Click here for more details on Wednesday’s heroes run.

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