RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Leonard Mitchell remembers exactly where he was 19 years ago on September 11, 2001.

“I remember driving up the New Jersey Turnpike and Route 1 and 9, you could see the smoldering building on the New York horizon,” said Mitchell, then a police officer at the New Jersey State Department of Corrections. “Those were people just going to work on a sunny Tuesday morning and didn’t come back that day.”

A few days later, Mitchell found himself at Ground Zero as a member of the Special Emergency Response Team.

“By that Friday we were all there,” added Mitchell, who spent three days at Ground Zero before relocating to morgue detail at St. Vincent’s Hospital. Mitchell would transport body bags in the effort to identify remains, working at the hospital for three months.

“It was pretty heavy sometimes, especially when you came across a fallen officer or fireman,” said Mitchell of his experience at the hospital. “We worked around the clock. We gave up our vacations, personal time and days off to help work the site.”

Years later, Mitchell would retire from his role as a police officer and focus on a new career working as a TSA officer.

Leonard Mitchell at Richmond International Airport

“I always felt that if I could assist in some way in stopping that from happening again, you know it would be a great thing for me,” said Mitchell, who has spent the last three years in Richmond.

Mitchell has yet to return to Ground Zero and says he will always remember those who lost their lives that day. He also remembers the men and women he worked with at Ground Zero who later died from breathing air at the site.