Three decades ago, young NYPD detective Steven McDonald inspired the entire city with his courage and determination when he was struck down in the line of service at the age of 29. In the years that followed, he continued to inspire New Yorkers with his humanity, his compassion and his ongoing, devoted service to the force. A heart attack has now claimed his life, yet McDonald wasn’t even expected to survive the senseless 1986 shooting in Central Park by a young thug that shattered his spine and left him paralyzed below the neck.
Bolstered by his strong religious faith and the devotion of his wife Patti Ann, he overcame his initial depression and persevered through grueling months of physical therapy. Though dependent on a ventilator to breathe and speak, he spent the next 30 years speaking to people around the globe. He regularly mentored rookie cops for the NYPD (where he remained an active member of the force) spoke to schoolkids about violence and made several trips to Northern Ireland, where he met with young people on both sides during the worst of the violence.
McDonald’s message was “Faith and Forgiveness” — a message he personally exemplified when he publicly forgave the teenager who had left him a quadriplegic. His unfailing optimism and cheerful demeanor won him legions of admirers and close friends, including the late Mayor Ed Koch and John Cardinal O’Connor. Perhaps his proudest moment came in 2010, when his son Conor became the fourth consecutive McDonald to join the ranks of the NYPD; last year, as his father looked on, he was promoted to detective.
Many would give up after injuries like Steven McDonald suffered. Instead, he gave New York a legacy of bravery that will continue to inspire — and that underscores why our police officers are known as New York’s Finest. RIP.