Beloved NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, who was left paralyzed from the neck down following a 1986 shooting in Central Park and dedicated his remaining years to sharing his story and inspiring others, has died at age 59.
McDonald, who suffered a heart attack Friday, January 6 on Long Island and never regained consciousness, was taken off life support on Tuesday, January 10, surrounded by family.
McDonald, who stopped by St. Patrick Catholic Academy in Bay Ridge in November to speak to students during a schoolwide assembly about safety and forgiveness, was honored with a procession outside North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, where he died.
A quadriplegic, he visited police station houses, schools, church groups and more, spreading his message of faith, forgiveness and peace.
“You and I have grown up in a world with too much violence,” he said at St. Patrick Catholic Academy, as parents, teachers and even children in the audience shed tears as he spoke of how 15-year-old Shavod Jones shot him on July 12, 1986 – just four days shy of his second anniversary as a police officer.
McDonald was on patrol with Sergeant Peter King in plainclothes at Central Park when they pulled up to Shavod and two younger teenagers. The kids ran away into a meadow so the two officers split up to go after them, a pursuit that ended in Shavod standing over McDonald with a loaded .22 caliber handgun.
“Before I could say ‘Don’t shoot’ or push the gun away, the boy pulled the trigger,” McDonald recalled. “I remember the reddish-orange flame from the gun.”
The first bullet struck McDonald above his right eye. He fell backwards. The boy moved closer and pulled the trigger for a second time. The bullet hit his throat. Again, McDonald fell backwards. Then, Shavod stepped over him and fired the third shot into his torso.
“I had a quick moment to say a prayer,” he told students. “My prayer to God was ‘I don’t want to die.’ My life was in God’s hands.”
“No one could have predicted that Steven would touch so many people, in New York and around the world,” said Police Commissioner James O’Neill. “Like so many cops, Steven joined the NYPD to make a difference in people’s lives. And he accomplished that every day. He is a model for each of us as we go about our daily lives. He will be greatly missed, and will always remain a part of our family.”
“New York City is heartbroken by the loss of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, who for 30 years has been this city’s greatest example of heroism and grace,” echoed Mayor Bill de Blasio, noting that he will “forever cherish” his last conversation with McDonald, late last year. “His words encouraged all of us to continue to bring police and communities closer together.
“The story of Detective Steven McDonald needs to be understood across the United States, especially as we work to heal the wounds of the past,” de Blasio went on. “There is no greater example of honor and service to others. Let it be our mission to continue his work.”
McDonald was appointed to the NYPD on July 16, 1984. He leaves behind his wife, Patti Ann, and his son, Conor, a fourth generation police officer who joined the NYPD in 2010.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell my story,” McDonald told students.
Melody Chan contributed reporting to this article.