April 27, 2017 10:28 AM

Welles Crowther died saving lives on 9/11 — and is still inspiring others with the selfless courage he displayed that horrific day.

“Young people come up to me over and over and over again and say, ‘We want to try to be like Welles,’” his mother, Alison Crowther, told PEOPLE in 2017.

After the second hijacked plane hit the World Trade Center’s south tower on Sept. 11, 2001, Welles “ran toward the danger, not away from it,” his father, Jefferson tells PEOPLE.

Welles, who was 24, used his training as a volunteer firefighter to direct people who were injured and stranded on the 78th floor to safety, even carrying one woman over his shoulders.

While helping people escape, Welles used the trusty red kerchief his father taught him to carry in his back pocket to protect his nose and mouth from the haze of smoke and dust, earning the moniker ‘the man in the red bandanna.’

The bandanna his father taught him to carry at age 6 “became meaningful to him,” says Jefferson.

On 9/11, “he put that bandanna to its best and highest use.”

Welles, whose body was found on March 19, 2002, is believed to have saved at least 18 lives that day.

“He will always be a hero to me,” says Alison.

Courtesy Crowther Family

He is also a hero who inspired the American Heroes Channel to create an award in his honor to celebrate Welles’ life as well as men and women who exemplify his selfless courage with the third annual Red Bandanna Hero Award.

Alison and Welles’s father, Jefferson, are proud of the Red Bandanna Hero Award that was created in honor of their son.

“It’s a wonderful thing,” says Jefferson.

The award, says Alison, “elevates everybody.”

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