Steven McDonald, a police officer best known for forgiving a teenage gunman who left him paralyzed in 1986, was remembered at his St. Patrick’s Cathedral funeral on Friday as a hero who never gave in to self-pity and lived a full life despite his disability.
“We learned the right way to live from him,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told McDonald’s widow Patti Ann, police officer son and other mourners packed into the Manhattan church. “He was synonymous with all that is great about our police department and our city.”
Police Commissioner James O’Neill said McDonald set an example for other officers at the New York Police Department, the nation’s largest.
“What we can learn from Steven’s life is this: The cycle of violence that plagues so many lives today can be overcome only by breaking down the walls that separate people,” he said. “The best tools for doing this, Steven taught us, are love, respect, and forgiveness.”
His son, Conor, recalled McDonald as an avid hockey fan and devoted father who would call him every morning at 5 a.m. to say good morning before his son would go on patrol.
“My dad wanted to make sure his time on earth wasn’t wasted,” he said. “He loved the NYPD to the end.”
McDonald, 59, who suffered a heart attack last week, died at a Long Island hospital on Tuesday. He had remained on the New York Police Department’s payroll as a detective until his death, but was best known as an international voice for peace and a source of support for other wounded police officers.
McDonald was on patrol on July 12, 1986, when he spotted bicycle thief Shavod “Buddha” Jones and two other teenagers in Central Park. When he moved to frisk one of them, the 15-year-old Jones shot McDonald three times, with one bullet piercing the officer’s spinal column.
About six months later, with McDonald still struggling to recover, he made a statement about Jones through his wife that defined the rest of his life: “I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life.”
In the years following the shooting, McDonald met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, and sat for an interview with Barbara Walters. He also took his message of forgiveness to Israel, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.
After Jones was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted murder, McDonald spoke of his hope that the pair would go on speaking tours together to offer a mutual message of peace. But shortly after Jones’s release from prison in 1995, he died in a motorcycle accident.