NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Steven McDonald, the NYPD detective best known for forgiving a teenage gunman who left him paralyzed in 1986, was remembered Friday as a hero who never gave in to self-pity and lived a full life despite his disability.
Watch: Funeral for NYPD Det. Steven McDonald
“To me, as to many of you, my father was the real Superman,” his son, NYPD Sgt. Conor McDonald said. “When God made my dad a cop, he broke the mold. He was a legend who will never be duplicated.”
The hearse carrying McDonald’s body arrived at St. Patrick’s Cathedral escorted by police motorcycles and amid the wail of bagpipes.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O’Neill watched with scores of police officers as the hearse pulled up in front of the church. They stood in silence as pallbearers took McDonald’s casket inside.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a close friend of McDonald, led the funeral Mass.
“We’re here to thank God. To thank God for Steven’s splendid life of love and service and finally, we’re here to ask the Lord to console his loyal, loving family, so many friends, fellow police officers and a community that misses him a lot already,” Dolan said.
In his remarks, de Blasio said McDonald was “synonymous with all that is great about our police department and our city” and called him the “greatest embodiment of what it means to be a member of the NYPD.”
“Imagine how easy it would be to fall into self-pity, to lose any sense of hope or energy, to simply recede from everyone around you,” de Blasio said.
“We learned the right way to live from him,” he added.
O’Neill said McDonald set an example for other officers at the NYPD, calling him “one of the most fearless cops ever to don a uniform.”
“What we can learn from Steven’s life is this: The cycle of violence that plagues so many lives today can be overcome only by breaking down the walls that separate people,” he said. “The best tools for doing this, Steven taught us, are love, respect, and forgiveness.”
His son, Conor, recalled McDonald as an avid New York Rangers fan and devoted father who would call him every morning at 5 a.m. to say good morning before his son would go on patrol.
“There were many ups and downs, lots of tears shed but more hugs shared. He was the greatest man that I could ask to be a father,” he said. “My dad wanted to make sure his time on earth wasn’t wasted.”
“He loved the NYPD to the end,” he added.
Monsignor Seamus O’Boyle, a cousin of McDonald’s widow who married them, made the trip from Ireland to deliver the Homily.
“Finding himself still alive, Steven was a man on a mission,” he said. “There was no doubting he had a great admiration for Martin Luther King, who said hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can.”
“Even though our hearts are broken, Steven, we give you back to the giver of the gift that you were to each and every one of us,” O’Boyle added.
Among the mourners were former mayor Rudy Giuliani and former police commissioners Bill Bratton and Ray Kelly.
“Isn’t that the truth — just that line stretching all the way down to 57th Street,” Bratton said.
Regular New Yorkers also came to St. Patrick’s Cathedral to pay their respects.
“He is the epitome of what is a saint on Earth,” West Side resident Theresa Hayde told CBS2’s Janelle Burrell. “He and his family.”
“I just loved how sweet and kind and forgiving he was and then how he enjoyed life to the fullest,” a mourner told WCBS 880’s Sean Adams.
“Great ambassador for the police department as well for the human race and his family as well,” said another. “He’s a hero.”
“Steven McDonald was a messenger for forgiveness for police officers, not only in New York City but around the world,” retired officer Wanye Brooks told 1010 WINS’ Samantha Liebman.
McDonald, 59, suffered a heart attack last week and died at a Long Island hospital on Tuesday. He was best known as an international voice for peace and a source of support for other wounded police officers.
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.
The cops on the case remember despairing for their brother officer and thirsting for justice, perhaps even vengeance. McDonald surprised them, twice.
“From day one, we never thought Steven was going to survive,” retired NYPD Det. Mike Sheehan said. “The amazing thing, the miracle of the whole thing was that Steven pulled through. And then when he was able to finally speak, the first thing he did was forgive the kid.”
“Arguably, his life was shaped as much by those three bullets fired by that 15-year-old boy as by the words he famously expressed afterwards: ‘I forgive him.'” O’Neill said.
His wife Patti Ann 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.”
McDonald explained this to CBS2’s Lou Young in 1996, a mere decade into his inspiring journey.
“I have very strong feelings about life issues and values, and they’ve been shaped by my life experience, certainly when I was shot and left for dead in Central Park,” he said. “What I’ve learned about life and my relationship with God, all that comes together.”
After his injury, McDonald was promoted to detective and continued to work for the department until his death.
In the years following the shooting, he 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.
McDonald was buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury, Long Island.
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