Updated Jan 13, 2017

A True Hero Passes

One remarkable thing about Steven McDonald’s life was how often, following his death Jan. 10, people described him as “a saint” without sounding trite.

He forgave Shavod “Buddha” Jones, the 15-year-old who shot him and left him paralyzed from the neck down in Central Park in July 1986, interrupting his life severely enough—at a time when his wife Patti was pregnant—that it’s hard to imagine such compassion. His statement came at the baptism of his son, Conor, who grew up to be an NYPD Sergeant, continuing the family’s multi-generational presence among The Finest.

And he did it without the young man asking, or doing anything to atone for the mindless, horrific act that grew out of Police Officer McDonald questioning the boy and two companions about a stolen bicycle.

Mr. McDonald made clear that he extended forgiveness for his own sake more than for the boy’s. He would later write, “I often tell people that the only thing worse than a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart. Such an attitude would have extended my tragic injury into my soul, hurting my wife, son and others even more. It is bad enough that the physical effects are permanent, but at least I can choose to prevent spiritual injury.”

Unable to perform the duties of a patrol officer, he nonetheless remained an active-duty cop while confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. He was a constant presence at NYPD ceremonies, from graduations to funerals, as well as at the trials of some officers, lending them moral support.

Mr. McDonald, who held the rank of First Grade Detective at the time of his death, also brought his message and the moral force with which he imbued it to schools and religious organizations, to lands of conflict from Ireland to Bosnia to Israel. He met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela.

Leaders of the two unions that represented Mr. McDonald during his career aptly summarized his contributions to both the Police Department and the world.

Detectives Endowment Association President Mike Palladino said, “Steven was an exceptional human being who should not be defined by the shooting that paralyzed him, but by what he accomplished in life after it happened.”

Pat Lynch, the head of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, called him “a true American hero” and said, “Since that fateful day in 1986, Steven dedicated his life to fighting hate and encouraging forgiveness through his actions. He was a powerful force for all that is good and is an inspiration to all of us. His was a life well-lived.”

As much as he will be missed by those who loved him most, they can take comfort that his spirit will live on.