NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Funeral services are set for a hero NYPD detective known for publicly forgiving a teenage gunman who left him paralyzed in 1986 from the neck down.
Thousands of mourners are expected to gather Friday morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to remember Detective Steven McDonald. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a close friend of McDonald, will officiate the service.
McDonald, 59, who suffered a heart attack last week, died at a Long Island hospital on Tuesday.
The widow and son of McDonald spoke out ahead of the funeral as they remember the man they loved who was also beloved by so many who considered him an inspiration.
“I mean this from the bottom of my heart. Thank you, thank you, thank you for everything everyone has done for us,” Patti-Ann McDonald said. “Not just this past week, but for over the past 30 years.”
“I think the most important thing we can take away from my father is his mission of love and compassion and forgiveness,” said his son, Conor McDonald, who is now an NYPD sergeant.
The elder McDonald was on patrol on July 12, 1986, when he spotted bicycle thief Shavod “Buddha” Jones and two other teenagers in Central Park. When he moved to frisk one of them, the 15-year-old Jones shot McDonald three times, with one bullet piercing the officer’s spinal column.
His wife was pregnant at the time with their son Conor. About six months later, McDonald made a statement that defined the rest of his life: “I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life.”
“Forgiveness grows understanding and tolerance,” he said. “Had I sought revenge, I would be a dead man already.”
In the years following the shooting, McDonald met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela and sat for an interview with Barbara Walters. He also took his message of forgiveness to Israel, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.
After Jones was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted murder, McDonald spoke of his hope that the pair would go on speaking tours together to offer a mutual message of peace. But shortly after Jones’ release from prison in 1995, he died in a motorcycle accident.
But for all those he touched, McDonald’s family says he felt just as blessed.
“I just want to let everyone know how much he loved the City of New York, the NYPD and his faith and family,” Patti-Ann McDonald said.
“Everyone out there who has been praying for us, gotta keep that message of faith, love, compassion and forgiveness alive,” his son said.
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