NY Daily NewsTHOMAS TRACY, RICH SCHAPIRO and LARRY McSHANE,With Edgar Sandoval and Byron Smith
In 1989, three years after his shooting, Officer Steven McDonald is seen with wife Patti Ann and son Conor, who is now an NYPD detective.
MISHA ERWITT, COREY SIPKIN, HARRY HAMBURG, TOMMONASTER/DAILY NEWS; STEPHEN BARCEL
Officer a hero before & after '86 shooting paralyzed him
NYPD OFFICER Steven McDonald, left for dead by a teen gunman, never heard the prognosis of his imminent demise.
The paralyzed cop miraculously survived for the next three decades, living to see the birth of his son and to become a global voice for peace and forgiveness across an extraordinary and unexpected life.
McDonald died Tuesday at the age of 59 after suffering a heart attack at his Long Island home on Friday.
"New York City is heartbroken by the loss of NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, who for 30 years has been this city's greatest example of heroism and grace," Mayorde Blasio said.
A parade of city officials past and present -- including de Blasio, Police Commissioner James O'Neill and former NYPD top cops Bill Bratton and Raymond Kelly -- visited McDonald at North Shore University Hospital, where he was on life support.
Hundreds of cops were lined up outside the emergency room Tuesday afternoon awaiting the removal of McDonald's body.
The officers gave him a final salute as a procession of police vehicles pulled away from the hospital about 2:10p.m.
"No one could have predicted that Steven would touch so many people, in New York and around the world," O'Neill said. "Like so many cops, Steven joined the NYPD to make a difference in people's lives. And he accomplished that every day."
NYPD Housing Bureau Chief James Secreto, who was McDonald's sergeant in the 1980s, said the paralyzed officer was an inspiration to all members of the force.
"If there's a better guy in this world, I want to meet him, "Secreto said outside the hospital, his voice heavy with emotion. "They don't come like him."
McDonald emerged as an even bigger hero from his specially equipped wheelchair than during histime walking a city beat.
His unlikely second act brought the indefatigable McDonald together with President George W. Bush, Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela and Mayors Michael Bloombergand Ed Koch.
Though unable to walk or hug his family, he traveled on missions of peace to Northern Ireland, Bosnia and the Middle East.
His son Conor, born months after the 1986 Central Park shooting, even spent one night beneath the watchful eye of baby-sitter Bruce Springsteen.
McDonald sat for interviews with Barbara Walters and David Letterman, never varying from his personal gospel of faith and forgiveness.
The officer practiced what he preached: McDonald delivered a stunning public absolution of his shooter on the day of his son's baptism.
"My simple understanding is that God has asked me to be a witness to do his will in this world," McDonald told the Daily News before the 25th anniversary of the shooting.
"And I think that's my life." McDonald, the father and sonof a city cop, barely dodged death in the attack where 15-year-old Shavod (Buddha) Jones blasted him three times inside the north end of the Manhattan oasis. The third-generation cop was the third of eight kids from an Irish-American clan. He was just 20 months on the job when his life was transformed during a routine shift on anover cast summer day.
McDonald approached three teens in the park on the afternoon of July 12, 1986. His new wife Patti Ann -- pregnant with their son -- was visiting her sister in Pennsylvania.
As the young cop moved in to frisk the trio, Jones pulled a .22-caliber handgun and fired three times. McDonald -- shot in the neck, wrist and face -- was instantly paralyzed. His prognosis was dire at best, hopeless at worse.
'When the odds were stacked against him, Detective mc- Donald set the standard of excellence and demonstrated unparalleled resilience and compassion. Detective mcDonald represents the very best of newYork and his grand presencewill be sorely missed. GOV. CUOMO
NYPD Detective Steven mcDonald was a hero in every sense of that word. He put his life on the line to make our city the safe place it is today. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER
"He's dying," said one of the first doctors to see the shattered cop at Metropolitan Hospital. "He's not going to make it."
The officer, before losing consciousness, recalled seeing a vision of his wife as a simple prayer filled hishead:"God, don't letme die."
It was far more violent than Apostle Paul's moment on the road to Damascus -- but the shooting transformed McDonald into a messenger of God's word.
The mission began March 1, 1987, when the quadriplegic officer stunned fellow cops and cynical New Yorkers with a conciliatory statement about Jones.
"I forgive him, and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life," McDonald said on the day of sonConor's christening.
McDonald was soon preaching peace and forgiveness at hot spots around the world. FDNY chaplain Rev. Mychal Judge, later the first victim of the 9/11 terrorist attack, accompanied McDonald to Northern Ireland.
The soft-spoken cop addressed the Republican National Convention in 1996, and the New York Rangers honored their hardest working player each year with the "Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award."
He campaigned with Mayor Bloomberg against illegal handguns, and co-authored" The Steven McDonald Story" with his wife about their life after the shooting.
No less an authority than John Cardinal O'Connor, who became a cherished friend, hailed McDonald for doing the work of Jesus Christ.
It was the cardinal's comparison of Christ and the cop that helped convince the paralyzed McDonald to follow his new path.
"He didn't save the world through teaching and preaching and miracles," the cardinal once told the cop of Jesus. "He made it possible when he was lying motion less on the cross."
When the rock-star attention disappeared, McDonald soldiered on. Riding in a specially equipped van, he traveled widely to address kids born years after the shooting, riding his motorized wheelchair into countless high school gyms.
As he spoke, the machine that allowed him to breathe sounded a steady background rhythm: Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
He was promoted to detective in 1995 and again to detective first grade in 2004.
McDonald kept a pace that would wear on anybody -- speaking at elementary schools and police precincts, mourning with his brothers in blue at cop funerals, attending the St. Patrick's Day Parade.
His life lacked just one major wish: McDonald never fulfilled his hope of enlisting the teen who shot him as a sidekick in his calls for non-violence.
McDonald spoke with Jones while the young man was imprisoned, and they exchanged letters. But the shooter, released in 1995, died in a motorcycle wreck just days later. The paralyzed policeman later recalled how his family was crushed by news of the death.
After his heart attack, McDonald bravely held on for four more days.
McDonald's friends and former colleagues started streaming into the hospital about 8 a.m. Tuesday after learning that his family was preparing to take him off life-support.
A source said so many people showed up that hospital staffers had to open up a conference room. Beginning at 10 a.m., a line of people waiting to say their good byesstretched outside McDonald's
room. Patti Ann and Conor were the last to go in, at about 1 p.m. McDonald was declared dead at 1:09 p.m., sources said.
McDonald's funeral will be held Friday at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Speakers will include O'Neill, de Blasio and Conor McDonald. The priest who married Steven McDonald and Patti Ann six months before the shooting will be flown in from England to deliver the homily, sources said.
"I think he exemplified everything that the NYPD strives to be," Bratton said.
"Steven probably met every New York City police officer and addressed every precinct in the last 20 years," he added. "He attended every graduation. It was his desire to stay on the active-duty rolls after the horrific injuries he suffered and hetruly stayedon duty."
Former NYPD Commissioner Kelly said he has long been in awe of McDonald's strength, bravery and ability to forgive.
"I've said many times that Steven McDonald is a living saint," Kellysaid.
A member of the prayer group McDonald co-led at the St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Center echoed Kelly'sdescription.
"A much better man than I am, to forgive someone like that," added Greg Fanning, 68.
Heroism ran in McDonald's family. His grandfather was a decorated detective once honored by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for busting a Bronx robbery ring -- and a survivor of a gunshot wound while breaking up a barroom heist in 1936.
McDonald's father joined the force in 1951, taking his first-born son for rides in his patrol car and plantinga seed for Steven'sfuture. His own son, Conor, joined the NYPD on July 6, 2010, nearly 24 years to the day of his father's Central Park shooting. The younger McDonald was promoted to detective sergeant in September 2016, and his father attended the ceremony.
"I have to salute him now," joked Steven McDonald, referring to the son's higher rank. "He's always made usvery proud."
NYPD Det. Steven mcDonald was a great friend & man of enormous courage & spirit. my prayers are w patty Anne/Connor. i mourn his death. RIP REP. PETE KING
Steven was 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. i was proud to call him my friend... Steven's passing represents an insurmountable loss for the children of new York City. QUEENS DISTRICT ATTORNEY RICHARD BROWN
Steven was an exceptional human being who should not be defined by the shooting that paralyzed him, but by what he accomplished in life after it happened...As a family, they have a remarkable way of navigating adversity. patti-Ann mcDonald is ... a profile in courage. DETECTIVES UNION HEAD MICHAEL PALLADINO