NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Mourners in Nassau County are saying a final farewell to NYPD Detective Steven McDonald.
A viewing is being held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday and another on Thursday at St. Agnes Parish Center on North Village Avenue in Rockville Centre.
McDonald died Tuesday at a Long Island hospital where he’d been admitted Friday after suffering a heart attack. Dozens of officers lined up outside the hospital as they transported his body to the funeral home.
As CBS2’s Alice Gainer reported, instead of retiring after being paralyzed on the job McDonald took his message of forgiveness on the road.
“No one could have predicted that Steven would touch so many people, in New York and around the world,” Police Commissioner James 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. He is a model for each of us as we go about our daily lives.”
It was a life that touched so many, from the admiration of his fellow citizens to earning the adoration of those who shared his faith. McDonald’s death is leaving a community with heavy hearts.
“We Catholics had a special pride in him. He took his faith so seriously and he lived it,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan said. “Character, heart, virtue, love, light.”
McDonald was appointed to the NYPD on July 16, 1984.
“We actually came on the job together back in July of 1984,” NYPD Chief Of Department, Carlos Gomez said.
He was investigating a bicycle robbery in Central Park on July 12, 1986 when he was shot three times.
One bullet tore into McDonald’s neck, followed quickly by another to his wrist and a third that lodged behind his right eye. It was the first shot that pierced his spinal column, paralyzing him.
Doctors told McDonald’s wife, Patti McDonald, who was three months pregnant, that he wouldn’t live through the afternoon.
But McDonald survived. He was left quadriplegic and had to breathe on a ventilator.
Mcdonald says it was on the day of his son’s baptism, March 1, 1987, that he chose to forgive Shavod Jones, the teen who shot him.
“Had I sought revenge, I would have been a dead man already,” McDonald said. “Forgiveness grows understanding and tolerance.”
He never wavered from that stance. 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.
The New York Rangers set up the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in his name, and every season the team honored him and his family on the ice.
“Rest in peace, Steven McDonald,” the Rangers tweeted Tuesday. “Our friend. Our hero. Above and beyond.”
The television cameras and media attention disappeared, but McDonald’s commitment endured. He kept a busy schedule speaking at schools around the country, relentlessly retelling his story to anyone who would listen. Lifted into a modified van, he traveled to hundreds of appearances each year.
The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick Lynch, said McDonald “was a powerful force for all that is good and is an inspiration to all of us.”
Dolan called McDonald “an icon of mercy and forgiveness, a prophet of the dignity of all human life.”
“I’m using this word purposely — we had a real saint on our hands,” Dolan said. “He was really a prophet. He was really an icon.”
Jones, the teenage shooter, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted murder and spent much of his time in prison getting into trouble.
McDonald reached out, sending him stationery and asking to start a dialogue. The two wrote letters for a while, but the correspondence ended when McDonald turned down a request to help Jones’ family seek parole.
In 2010, his son Conor McDonald decided to follow his father, joining the NYPD and became a sergeant last year.
“I’ll see you on the other side daddio. I love you forever,” Conor wrote on Facebook.
In 2007, Patti McDonald was elected mayor of Malverne.
Detective McDonald’s father was also a cop. His dad’s partner was there on Wednesday.
“I had to do it for my old partner. I could not stay away,” Joe Serpico said.
Childhood neighbors also came.
“He was one of the older boys who would help out the little kids. You know, playing on the block he was real nice,” Doris Whitehead said.
McDonald spoke regularly at St. Agnes, and those who used to listen to him were among the mourners.
“Hurts because we’re losing somebody who was trying to tech us,” Ed Jozwiak said.
McDonald’s funeral will be held Friday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. McDonald will also be honored at this year’s upcoming St. Patrick’s Day parade in March.
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