MANHATTAN — Tributes poured in for beloved NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, who died Tuesday afternoon after his family removed him from a life support respirator he has used since he was paralyzed 30 years ago by a gunshot.
“Det. McDonald, 59, who loved cops/community/life & NY Rangers, has passed (and) source of inspiration & incredible hope to people the world over,” Police Commissioner James O’Neill tweeted after McDonald died in a Long Island Hospital.
McDonald, who famously forgave the teen who shot him, inspired countless people by exhibiting a life filled with compassion rather than hatred or self-pity. He suffered a massive heart attack last Friday that left him unconscious.
"Steven McDonald was the most courageous and forgiving man I have ever known,” said Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association. “Despite the tremendous pain in his life, both physical and emotional, his concern for his fellow police officers and for the people of New York City never wavered.”
“He was a powerful force for all that is good and is an inspiration to all of us,” Lynch concluded, calling McDonald “a truly special man” and an “American hero.’
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown, who considered McDonald a friend, described him as an “inspiring human being, and a man of deep and abiding faith who, when confronted by adversity early in his police career, responded with courage, grace and dignity.”
On July 12, 1986, McDonald, then an officer for just two years, was trying to stop robberies in Central Park when he was shot three times by 15-year-old Shavod Jones. One of the bullets hit McDonald in the neck, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
“Over the next 30 years, he spread his message of peace and nonviolence to all who would listen, through numerous inspirational appearances throughout the city, the country and even in Europe,” Brown said, adding that his death would “represent an insurmountable loss of the city’s children.”
Michael Palladino, the detective union president, said McDonald “was in a category by himself as a human being” who reached out to the teen who crippled him “to transcend that hatred and publicly forgive him."
The New York Rangers organization, which held numerous events over the years with the hockey-loving McDonald, expressed their condolences to his family, tweeting “Rest in Peace Steven McDonald. Our friend. Our hero. Above and beyond.”
Police sources say McDonald's death will likely be ruled a homicide since it apparently stems from being shot in the line of duty 30 years ago. Doctors initially gave him only a few years to survive.
The ruling, however, will have no appreciable meaning in the case because Jones died in a motorcycle accident in 1995 shortly after he was freed from prison.
McDonald followed his father, David, and grandfather into the NYPD. He is survived by his wife, Patti Ann, and son, Conor, an NYPD sergeant.
“Like so many cops, Steven joined the NYPD to make a difference in people’s lives,” the NYPD said in a statement. “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."
Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city “is heartbroken” by McDonald’s death because he had been the “greatest example of heroism and grace.”
“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 said in a statement. “There is no greater example of honor and service to others. Let it be our mission to continue his work.”
McDonald's wake will be held Wednesday and Thursday at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Center, Long Island.
His funeral will take place Friday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Patrick's Cathedral in Manhattan.