Midtown Manhattan descended into an unusual hush Friday morning as thousands of mourners flooded St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay their respects to NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, the hero cop from Long Island who became a symbol of peace around the world after he was paralyzed from the neck down in a horrific shooting.
The usually bustling and tourist-heavy section of the city transformed into a sea of blue as police officers from around the country gathered outside the historic church. Draped in an NYPD flag, McDonald’s casket was carried into St. Patrick’s Cathedral just before 10 a.m. as his son, Conor, a NYPD sergeant, saluted with his mother Patricia Ann by his side. The mass was led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
.@NYPDHighway motorcycles & our partners from near and far lead today’s procession as we honor Detective Steven McDonald. #NeverForget. pic.twitter.com/co0BMwksty
— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) January 13, 2017
McDonald, of Malverne, died at the age of 59 of a heart attack Tuesday at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset. He suffered a life-changing injury 30 years ago when a 15-year-old in Central Park shot him three times. In extraordinary act of kindness, McDonald forgave the teen.
”I only hope that he can turn his life into helping and not hurting people,” McDonald said in a letter read by his wife following Conor’s baptism. “I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.”
As life would have it, it was McDonald, a fourth-generation police officer, who found purpose after the tragedy—traveling the globe and carrying with him a message of peace. As an ambassador to the NYPD, McDonald pursued a “global mission of goodwill and rebirth,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neil said. His sense of duty took him to the Middle East, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, where he promoted reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants.
“Steven McDonald is the strongest person I know,” O’Neil said.
The shooter, Shavod Jones, was convicted in 1987 of attempted murder. After eight years in prison, Jones was released on parole. Less than a week later, he died after sustaining injuries from a motorcycle crash.
In his Homily, Patricia Ann’s cousin, an Irish priest, said of McDonald’s act of forgiveness: “How important it was for the streets of this great city.”
“Steven was a man on a mission,” he said, adding that McDonald “had great admiration” for Martin Luther King Jr.
“Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can,” he said, citing the preacher’s words. “Steven wholeheartedly concurred with that.”
The priest recalled the first time he heard McDonald’s voice during a phone call from McDonald’s hospital in Denver.
“Once he started talking, we thought he’d never stop,” he said, remembering the words of McDonald’s therapist.
“Steven spoke to the great and the powerful, to the small and the weak,” he said.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said McDonald personally touched thousands of lives but “millions were moved by his example.”
“He became the greatest embodiment of what it means to be a member of the NYPD,” de Blasio said. “He was synonymous with all that is great about our police department and our city. He showed that the work of policing is profoundly based on love and compassion for your fellow man and woman, and he lived it everyday.”
“We learned the right way to live from him,” the mayor added.
McDonald was 29 years old when he was shot—the same age his son Conor is now.
Police blood runs deep in McDonald family. McDonald’s great grandfather, grandfather and father were all cops. O’Neil, the police commissioner, recalled how McDonald’s grandfather would take him for rides in his police vehicle.
“I don’t know if that’s allowed,” O’Neil said in a brief moment of levity.
“Steven continues to be an icon,” he said. “He believed that the tragedy that befell him was something that happened to him for a reason…so that he could become a messenger.”
In his emotional remarks, Conor McDonald said when his father became an NYPD officer, he “broke the mold.”
“He’s a legend who will never have a comparison,” he said.
Conor spoke of the love his parents shared—a love so deep that McDonald said he fought to stay alive so he could see his wife Patricia again.
“And fight he did,” Conor said.