Paralyzed Detective Steven McDonald Dies Days After Suffering Heart Attack

The hero cop was shot by a brazen teen in 1986 while on patrol in Central Park

What to Know

  • NYPD Detective Steven McDonald died days after suffering a heart attack at his Long Island home
  • The hero cop was shot in the throat by a brazen teen in 1986 and became a paraplegic
  • His son, Conor, joined the NYPD in 2010 and was promoted to his father's rank in January 2016

An NYPD detective who became paralyzed from the neck down after he was shot on the job 30 years ago has died just days after suffering a heart attack.

NYPD Detective Steven McDonald, who became an international voice for peace after he publicly forgave the gunman, died Tuesday, the department said. He was 59, and had been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack Friday. 

News of his death sparked a groundswell of condolences on social media; Twitter erupted with remembrances for the police officer who touched so many lives, both at home and abroad.

“No one could have predicted that Steven would touch so many people, in New York and around the world,” NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill said in a statement. “Like so many cops, Steven joined the NYPD to make a difference in people’s lives. And he accomplished that every day. He is a model for each of us as we go about our daily lives."

McDonald was left a paraplegic and dependent on a wheelchair and ventilator after he was shot in the throat by 15-year-old Shavon Jones in 1986 while on patrol in Central Park. He publicly forgave Jones, who died in a motorcycle accident shortly after he was released from prison. 

When he was shot, doctors told his wife, Patti McDonald, that he wouldn't live through the afternoon. 

In the years after the shooting, McDonald became one of the world's foremost pilgrims for peace. He took his message of forgiveness to Israel, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

Patrolmen's Benevolent Association boss Pat Lynch called McDonald "the most courageous and forgiving man I have ever known."

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The New York Rangers established the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in his honor following the 1987-88 season. Named in his honor, the annual award is given to the Rangers player who goes beyond the normal call of duty.

McDonald was a huge fan of the team, and every season, the team honored him and his family on the ice.

The hero detective was an iconic figure of sacrifice for the NYPD and inspired many, including his own son Conor, who followed in his father's footsteps by joining the NYPD in 2010.

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"The city of New York did a lot of great things for my family in 1986 when my father was shot," he said at a press conference following his 2010 swearing in ceremony at York College. "I want to do my best to protect and serve the people that helped give my family a second life."

In September, the elder McDonald donned his navy blue police uniform to see his son receive a gold detective's shield during his promotion ceremony. He told the Daily News that the promotion was very emotional.

Conor McDonald's shield number is the same as a friend of his father who was instrumental in his recovery.

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Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city is heartbroken by the loss of McDonald, "who for 30 years has been this city's greatest example of heroism and grace." 

He recounted his last conversation with the detective late last year and said "his words encouraged all of us to continue to bring police and communities closer together." 

De Blasio added in the statement, "We are blessed that NYPD Detective Sergeant Conor McDonald continues in his father's footsteps and will ensure his legacy lives on in the greatest police department in the world." 

"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," he said. "There is no greater example of honor and service to others. Let it be our mission to continue his work." 

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said McDonald "set the standard of excellence and demonstrated unparalleled resilience and compassion," and that he "represents the very best of New York." 

Cardinal Timothy Dolan said in a statement that he was "an icony of mercy and forgiveness, a prophet of the dignity of all human life, a shining example of the best of what the New York Police Department represents, a loving husband and father, and a fervent and faithful Catholic." 

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown called the death of McDonald an "insurmountable loss for the children of New York City.

"He so generously lent his time to youth anti-violence initiatives like my office’s STAR Track (Straight Talk About Risks) program, which helps children in Far Rockaway 'say no to violence' by avoiding gangs, drugs and guns," Brown said in a statement. "Steven’s example has had an immeasurable impact on the path that these children will take in life." 

A service for McDonald will be held at New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral at 9.30 a.m. this Friday. 

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