Jan. 9, 2016 : 7:35 pm
By MARK TOOR
|FAREWELL TO AN NYPD HERO: Police officers crowd Fifth Ave. as a motorcycle escort proceeds along Fifth Ave. in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral Jan. 13 for the funeral of Det. Steven McDonald (inset). Mr. McDonald, who died Jan. 10 at the age of 59, had been shot and left paralyzed in 1986 by a 15-year-old he had stopped for an investigation. He forgave the young man and in the years that followed spread his message of peace and reconciliation within the NYPD and around the world. Photo: The Chief-Leader/Chris Bishop|
“God has turned something terrible into something beautiful,” Detective First Grade Steven McDonald once said about his extraordinary life.
Detective McDonald, who died at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, L.I., on Jan. 10 at the age of 59, was working in plainclothes in Central Park July 12, 1986 when he stopped and questioned three teenagers. One of them, 15-year-old Shavod Jones, pulled out a gun and shot him in the throat, wrist and face.
Left Him Paralyzed
Other officers rushed Detective McDonald to the hospital, where doctors saved his life but told him that the bullet to the throat had shattered and its fragments had entered his spine. He would be paralyzed from the neck down. His wife, Patti Ann, was three months pregnant.
At the baptism of his son, Conor—now an NYPD Sergeant—‘‘I told everyone I forgave the young teen who shot me,” he said on the spiritual-publishing website Plough. “I wanted to free myself of the negative, destructive emotions that this act of violence all awoke in me—the anger, the bitterness, the hatred. I needed to free myself of those so I could be free to love my wife and our child and those around us.”
For the rest of his life, using a wheelchair and a breathing machine, Detective McDonald became the NYPD’s international ambassador of good will.
He provided a message of nonviolence, faith and reconciliation, telling his story to schoolchildren; church groups; warring factions in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and Bosnia; and two Republican presidential conventions. He met with world leaders, including President George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II and South African freedom-fighter Nelson Mandela.
‘Revenge Hurts Your Soul’
“I often tell people that the only thing worse than a bullet in my spine would have been to nurture revenge in my heart,” he said on Plough. “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.”
At the baptism service, his wife read a statement that he wrote: “I’m sometimes angry at the teenage boy who shot me. But more often I feel sorry for him. I only hope that he can turn his life into helping and not hurting people. I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.”
He said he and his wife were not particularly religious before the shooting. “Our faith suddenly became very important to us: the Catholic mass, prayers, our need for God,” he said. “It was God’s love that put me back together. And it came from many different corners. Christians of every orientation, Jews, Muslims, and people of no faith at all were rooting for me.”
“Steven McDonald was the most courageous and forgiving man I have ever known,” Patrick J. Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, said in a statement. “Despite the tremendous pain in his life, both physical and emotional, his concern for his fellow police officers and for the people of New York City never wavered.
“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… He was a true American hero.”
“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,” said Michael J. Palladino, president of the Detectives Endowment Association.
‘A Living Example’
At Detective McDonald’s funeral Jan. 13 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Mayor de Blasio said he was “a living example of everything we aspire to be and a city embodied in one man…the greatest embodiment of what it means to be a member of the NYPD.”
His life represented two of the Ten Commandments: “love the Lord, and love your neighbor as yourself. We all watched Steven McDonald live out those commandments,” the Mayor said.
He continued, “It was not easy. Imagine that all your body could do was taken. Imagine how easy it would be to fall into self-pity…But Steven McDonald was a hero, a hero who overcame all the pain, all the discomfort, all the challenges.” Detective McDonald “did it every day against the odds for 30 long years,” he said.
He added, “We have an obligation to tell his story again and again. We need more love, more understanding, and who better to teach us than Detective Steven McDonald?”
Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill described him as “one of the most remarkable men I ever met.” He quoted the Detective as saying that “what happened to him happened to inspire him to inspire others, so that he could become a messenger” for improving relations between police and the community, and “of peace and forgiveness.”
He said Detective McDonald spoke to thousands of cops, telling them, “Always think about police-officer safety, and always treat everyone they encounter with the same respect they’d use to treat their friends.”
Conor McDonald, in his NYPD dress uniform, told the congregation that his father “made it his mission to have all of us realize that love must win.”
Sergeant McDonald—who is 29, the same age at which Steven was shot—recalled his dad’s involvement with him during his days of playing sports at Chaminade High School and the weekly drives when he was at Boston College for lunch at Applebee’s.
“He called me every day at 5 a.m.—every day—while I was patrolling the streets of this great city,” Conor said.
‘A Real Superman’
“Thank you so much for this strong tribute to my beautiful and amazing father…To me, my father was a real Superman.” He also praised his mother’s dedication, leading worshipers to stand and applaud her.
Msgr. Seamus O’Boyle, a cousin of Patti Ann McDonald, noted that Detective McDonald had “a great admiration for Martin Luther King,” whose birthday would be celebrated three days after the funeral. The Monsignor quoted Dr. King: “ ‘Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can.’ Steven wholeheartedly concurred with that.
“He loved going around and spreading the message of Jesus,” the clergyman said. “It was never about him. It was never ‘poor me.’ It was about the treasure he held in that fragile and wounded vessel of his human body…He spoke to the great and the powerful, the small and the weak.”
“His life exemplified the highest ideals of a public servant and the police profession,” John Jay College Prof. Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer, said in an email. “He delivered that message of reconciliation at every opportunity…To be in his presence was to be truly humbled, and you could not help but feel that try as hard as you might in similar circumstances, it just wouldn’t be possible to be as forgiving as he was.
“I met him once, and he was probably the one and only bona fide saint I have or will ever meet in person. Perhaps we can consider naming the NYPD Academy after him, a person who stood and delivered in a life-altering moment, but then spent the remainder of his years sowing seeds of justice and brotherhood—the epitome of what a peace officer really is.”
Inspiration and Mentor
Detective McDonald showed great loyalty to the NYPD, attending graduations and memorial services, visiting precincts and counseling officers.
“Last week, he came and spoke to a group of rookies that are going into Housing, 60 young officers, and as I introduced him, I introduced him as a great guy,” Chief of Housing James Secreto said at the hospital. “...They just don’t come like him, any better person than him.”
The department repaid his good feelings. After a heart attack Jan. 6, he was placed on life support. When the family decided to let him go, hundreds of officers lined up to pay respects.
“He so generously lent his time to youth anti-violence initiatives like my office’s STAR Track [Straight Talk About Risks] program, which helps children in Far Rockaway say no to violence by avoiding gangs, drugs and guns,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
Despite his grievous injuries, Detective McDonald remained on active duty until his death. He was promoted to Detective in 1995 and Detective First Grade in 2004.
Mr. Jones was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 3⅓ to 10 years in prison. Shooter and victim corresponded while Mr. Jones was serving his time, although contact ended when Detective McDonald declined to support the Jones family’s efforts to win parole.
Died in Accident
Three days after his release in 1995, Mr. Jones died in a motorcycle accident. Detective McDonald had hoped that one day they would work together spreading his message of forgiveness and peace.
He grew up in Rockville Centre, L.I., one of eight children of an NYPD Sergeant and grandson of a Detective. After the shooting, he and his wife and son moved to a specially-equipped house in Malverne. Patti Ann McDonald is Mayor of the village.