Three bullets and 30 years later, NYPD Detective Steven McDonald is still inspiring others with his story of how he forgave the boy who turned him into a quadriplegic.
During a schoolwide assembly at St. Patrick Catholic Academy, Fourth Avenue and 97th Street, McDonald spoke to a group of third to eighth graders about safety and forgiveness on November 4.
“You and I have grown up in a world with too much violence,” he said.
Parents, teachers, and children in the audience shed tears as he shared his story of how 15-year-old Shavod Jones shot him on July 12, 1986.
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.
McDonald caught up with the boys first and suspected that they were involved in “something very bad,” he said.
“Hey, fellas, I’m a police officer and I’d like to talk to you,” McDonald told them.
He questioned them as he waited for King to arrive. During his questioning, he thought he saw a gun hidden in one of the boy’s sock, so he bent down to examine it.
“A police officer doesn’t go to work thinking today I’m going to be the victim of violence,” he said.
At that moment, Shavod pulled out a gun and stepped over him.
“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.
“It was frightening. I was in a bad place, in a bad way, and I felt like I was dying,” McDonald said.
“I had a quick moment to say a prayer,” he said. “My prayer to God was ‘I don’t want to die.’ My life was in God’s hands.”
McDonald closed his eyes as King ran over to him and radioed for help. When back up arrived, King was sitting on the ground, crying and covered in blood, rocking back and forth with McDonald in his arms.
“He was a great boss and a very good friend,” McDonald said.
However, he said they haven’t seen each other “that much” after the shooting, although, McDonald’s son, Conor, a fourth generation police officer who joined the NYPD in 2010, visited King back in June.
McDonald’s wife, Patricia, whom he married eight months prior to the shooting, gave birth to Conor in January, 1987. She was already three months pregnant with him when McDonald was shot.
“He was a beautiful baby and a gift from God,” McDonald said.
In March, 1987, eight months after the shooting, Patti helped McDonald tell everyone that he forgave Shavod in a press conference at Bellevue Hospital.
“I was angry, I didn’t like the boy who shot me,” he said. “But all that anger and ill feelings I lived with would have destroyed me. God asked me if I can love the boy who hurt me and I said yes.”
“Once I said yes to God, I was free of all those bad feelings,” he continued. “That’s why I’m here today. You can forgive those who hurt you.”
Principal Kathleen Curatolo of St. Patrick Catholic Academy said she knew McDonald’s story would be powerful but it was more powerful than she expected.
“I lost a brother on September 11; he was a firefighter,” Curatolo said. “When he talks about forgiveness and how hatred can eat you up, he’s right. I know from personal experience.”
Even though McDonald has neither stroked his wife’s face in 30 years nor ever played baseball with his son like he did with his own dad, his family supported his decision to forgive Shavod.
“I think it was their job to love me and support me in that decision,” he said.
When Shavod died in a motorcycle accident three days after his release from jail after nine years, Patti dropped the phone when she learned the news. Conor also asked his whole school to pray for Shavod.
“They had good feelings for him,” McDonald said.
In addition, McDonald said his wife encourages him to tell his story to show that there is forgiveness. Thus, once or more each week from September until June, he shares his story. He speaks to police officers, community groups and children.
Curatolo said it is especially important for the kids to learn about forgiveness because everything in their lives is a big deal to them.
McDonald also wants to send the message that the Police Department and the community are very close.
“[Police officers] would do anything to save the people of our city,” he said, even if it means sacrificing some limbs. In addition, he said he hopes students believe the police are here to help them and not hurt them.
“I’m grateful for the opportunity to tell my story,” McDonald said.