Detective Steven McDonald of the NYPD (59) who suffered a heart attack on Friday, Jan 6 is the bravest man I ever knew. Tragically cut down, in Central Park, by a 15-year-old perp with a gun, Stephen suffered the worst high-spinal injury possible, in 1986, and many feared the worst.
Though a paraplegic, dependent for his life on oxygen and 24-hour care, Steven McDonald became an incredible inspiration to anyone who knew him. He had an especially close relationship with Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest who was a tragic victim on 9/11.
McDonald was said to be on life support in a Long Island hospital as family and caregivers who had looked after him for 30 years gathered.
Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted Friday night his thoughts were with McDonald.
I especially loved to see him at the St. Patrick's Day parade where he was beloved and applauded far more than any other participant. That was how it should be, an incredibly brave man showing and leading by example.
People with Steve’s wound simply were not expected to live that long but he beat all the odds. How he managed to be there for wife Patti Ann and son Conor is a tale of remarkable courage and fortitude. How they were there for him is a story of love and courage too.
I can remember numerous conversations with him, often at our Irish America magazine events and I was especially proud when he and his family were named to Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2014. No one deserved it more.
Everywhere he went Steven lit up the room with his presence, an incredible example to all. When my nephew Rory Staunton died tragically, at age 12, Steven was one of the first people to offer his condolences. Somehow it meant an awful lot.
He forgave the kid who shot him; he chose mercy and love over hate and revenge. A gunshot changed Steven McDonald’s life forever but it never changed his soul and his belief in God and mankind.
As a young NYPD detective he was shot while questioning a 15-year old about possible bicycle thefts. The shooting left him a quadriplegic but, with the help of family and friends, particularly his wife Patti who was pregnant with their son Conor at the time, he turned tragedy into inspiration and went on to become an inspiring public speaker. Most notably he spoke on behalf of the NYPD at peace initiatives in Northern Ireland, to the U.S. Navy (he was a hospital corpsman) and with students about violence and forgiveness.
In 1998, as Northern Ireland was experiencing the worst sectarian violence in years, Steven spoke in both Protestant and Catholic neighborhoods and returned the following year with his message of “Faith and Forgiveness.”
“I spent part of four summers up in the North, and people there helped me more in my situation than I’ve helped them,” he told Irish America magazine back in 2014. “We went in 1998, ’99, and 2000 and we went back in 2008.”
His wife of over 30 years, Patricia Ann McDonald, was elected Mayor of Malverne on Long Island, in March 2007, and his son, Conor McDonald, joined the NYPD in 2010.
Both Patti Ann and Stephen grew up on Long Island – Patti in Malverne, where her father taught English at a local high school, Stephen in nearby Rockville Centre. He was one of eight children and both his father and maternal grandfather were New York City cops. After a stint in the Navy, he followed in their path and joined the NYPD.
“We are in this together, as a family,” Steven said at the time, speaking on the phone to Irish America.