The Irish NYPD detective who was viciously slashed in the face with a cleaver in Midtown Manhattan last week has two simple words for those who reached out to offer support: “Thank you.”
Brian O’Donnell, 43, made headlines in New York and Ireland last Thursday evening when he tackled a mentally ill criminal with a long rap sheet wielding a cleaver and running from police on heavily trafficked West 32nd Street near Penn Station.
O’Donnell was en route from his 19th Precinct base on the Upper East Side to Penn Station for the Long Island Rail Road ride home to his wife and three sons in Northport, NY when he came upon the scene and immediately sprang into action.
He tackled Akram Joudeh, and the tussle resulted in a huge gash on the left side of O’Donnell’s face requiring 72 stitches. His left arm and wrist were also broken. Other officers on the scene then shot and wounded Joudeh, who was last arrested in July after he was found carrying knives near a synagogue in Brooklyn.
O’Donnell’s brother John, who lives in Las Vegas and works in the bar business, told our sister publication the Irish Voice on Monday evening that his brother and the O’Donnell family are hugely grateful for the outpouring of encouragement they’ve received since the shock attack.
“Brian is very, very thankful. We all are,” said John. “We’ve heard from people all over New York and Ireland and the world really. Brian says to say thank you so much and that we appreciate all the good thoughts.”
Brian and John O’Donnell, 47, are originally from Dublin, and spent most of their growing up years in Banagher, Co. Offaly, where Brian played hurling with St. Rynagh’s. The brothers, who also have three sisters, one in New York and two in Ireland, both won Morrison visas in 1993 and headed for New York. Brian joined the U.S. Navy, and when he completed his stint he worked for a while at Gaelic Park, which for years was run by the O’Donnells’ legendary great uncle, John “Kerry” O’Donnell.
“We have a rich history with Gaelic Park with our great uncle. Brian worked there before he joined the NYPD,” said John. “Brian was a good plumber. He did lots of things.”
O’Donnell has been a member of the NYPD for the past 16 years, and in 2015 was promoted to detective. John says his brother is passionate about his job, and took last week's shock attack in his stride.
“When I spoke to Brian on Thursday night he said, ‘I’m a cop and that’s what we do. It’s our job.’ He’s really brave. A real hero who acted on instinct,” John said.
The brothers are extremely close despite the distance in geography. John regularly visits New York, and relishes the chance to spend time with his brother. “I’m kind of the outgoing one and Brian is more quiet, but people gravitate to him. By the end of the night everyone is all around him,” said John.
“We had a great night out in New York last month when I was there, going to the old haunts. Brian is a family man and never really goes out much, maybe twice a year when I’m around. His wife and boys mean everything to him.”
The O’Donnells have been inundated with calls and good wishes since the attack made headline news. “People who we haven’t heard from in many years called, guys we went to school with and guys who Brian was in the Navy with,” says John.
After spending Thursday in Bellevue Hospital, Brian was released on Friday morning with his wife Krista and two of their three sons by his side. His NYPD family was out in force to see him off, and John says his brother’s fellow officers have been “nothing short of incredible.”
“They really rally around and make a huge effort when something like this happens,” said John. “They stick together. It’s great to see.”
Brian is a regular visitor to Ireland with his wife and sons Aidan, Declan and Finn. “Krista is Italian and German from Queens and she has a great family. She loves Ireland and so do the boys,” said John.
Brian’s stitches were removed on Tuesday, and the healing process continues. His focus, John says, is spending time with his wife and sons and getting back on the job soon.
“We’re feeling very lucky that he’s alive. It could have gone the other way. What we all want now is for life to just return to normal,” said John.
One definite on the family’s calendar? The All-Ireland football final replay between Dublin and Mayo set for Saturday, October 1, after the teams battled to a draw on Sunday at Croke Park in Dublin. Brian and his boys watched the match live at their home on Sunday morning.
“Big time. Everyone wore their Dublin jerseys,” said John, “rooting on the boys in blue.”