Detective Steven McDonald was a 29-year-old plainclothes police officer in New York City when he was shot by a teenager on July 12, 1986.
Officer McDonald and his partner had stopped to question Shavod Jones and two other teenagers about bicycle thefts in Central Park. Noticing the young man had something in his sock, McDonald went to examine the object. The then-15-year-old shot him three times, sending him to the hospital with such serious injuries that the attending doctors told his pregnant wife that he wouldn’t live through the afternoon.
He did survive, however, and dedicated his life to promoting forgiveness and compassion, until his death on Tuesday.
Nine months after the incident, paralyzed from the neck down and breathing with a respirator, he dictated a statement, which his wife read at a news conference following the baptism of his infant son.
“I'm sometimes angry at the teenage boy who shot me,” Patricia McDonald read from her husband’s letter, The New York Times reported at the time. “But more often I feel sorry for him. I only hope that he can turn his life into helping and not hurting people. I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.”
Shavod was convicted of the shooting, after a trial that drew widespread attention, given the nature of the crime and the extent of McDonald’s injuries. According to The New York Times, then-president Ronald Reagan even called the officer while he was in the hospital recovering.
The following summer McDonald reportedly sent stationery and stamps along with a note to Shavod saying, “Let’s carry on a dialogue.” And when Shavod died in a motorcycle accident in Harlem, McDonald spoke of his unshakable faith in the young man who had shot him years before.
“There was goodness in his inner being,” he said, reported the New York Times.
Once he had recovered enough from his injuries to travel, McDonald embarked on a global mission for peace and forgiveness. He spoke extensively of his Roman Catholic faith and traveled to Northern Ireland to promote reconciliation between the Protestants and Catholics. He was accompanied on that trip by Father Mychal Judge, the New York Fire Department chaplain who later died on September 11th while ministering to victims. McDonald started a walk of remembrance in his honor in 2002.
In 1991, McDonald wrote a book about his experience and his convictions moving forward. In 1995, he met with Pope John Paul II, and then 20 years later in September 2015 later he saw Pope Francis in Central Park, not far from where his shooting took place.
In December 2010, his son Conor McDonald, born six months after his father's shooting, joined the New York Police Department, becoming the fourth generation of his family to serve the NYPD.
In 1987, the New York Rangers hockey team established the Steven McDonald Extra Effort award in his name and honored him and his family annually on the ice. Following his death, the team tweeted, “Rest in peace, Steven McDonald. Our friend. Our hero. Above and beyond.”
“No one could have predicted that Steven would touch so many people, in New York and around the world,” said NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, reported the Times. “Like so many cops, Steven joined the NYPD to make a difference in people’s lives. And he accomplished that every day.”