Friday, January 12, 2018

Central Park: Police Officer Steven McDonald Honored At His Old Precinct

"There is more love in this city than there are street corners,”  -  Steven McDonald 

Patti Ann McDonald, wife of the late NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, attended the unveiling of his memorial  with their son, NYPD Sgt. Conor McDonald at the Central Park Precinct. A year after being assigned to the park he was shot three times by a fifteen-year-old who the officer was questioning, his wife was pregnant with Conor at the time of  the shooting.  “I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life,” Steven said in a statement read by his wife at his son’s baptism held in a chapel at Bellevue Hospital in early 1987. (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on Images to enlarge


By Geoffrey Croft

One year after the passing of police officer Steven McDonald the city honored the hero with a plaque which was unveiled at his old precinct in Central Park.  

The touching ceremony was attended by family and friends and follow officers who worked and knew the beloved officer and many others who were there to pay their respects to a fallen brother who had inspired so many.

NYPD officer Steven McDonald in 1986, at age 29, the year he was shot and paralyzed in Central Park.  He was shot a year after being assigned to the Central Park Pct and 20 months after becoming a police officer. He was  and continues to be an inspiration to countless officers and will remain an enduring spirit for the city.  

He is survived by his wife, Patti Ann, and son Conor who followed in his father’s footsteps and became a forth generation police officer when he joined the force in 2010.  He is now a sergeant in the NYPD. 

McDonald’s wife was pregnant at the time with their only child, Conor was born six months after the shooting. 

Those attending the standing room only ceremony included Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, former NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, former Mayor David Dinkins, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and  Cardinal Timothy Dolan who presided over a funeral mass for McDonald at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

The family's deep faith was also in attendance.

Steven McDonald was paralyzed after being shot in Central Park and was confined to a wheelchair and a ventilator.  The incident shocked the city.   

The Mayor said the plaque will be a reminder of McDonald’s life, that "we should all be about serving others, should all be about protecting others, and forgiving those we come across that do the wrong thing as well as celebrating those who do the right thing.  That's what his life was about and it was so extraordinary,” he said.    

The mayor spoke of the family’s courage, strength and their contribution to the city.   

"All eight and a half million New Yorkers owe a debt of gratitude to this family,” the Mayor said. 

"A man of faith like him believes its important to live the word.” 

The mayor then read a passage from the Corinthians 13:7-8.

“ Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the moving plaque dedication ceremony on Wednesday.  

NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill praised Patti-Ann for all the support she has given to Department over the years.   

Commissioner O’Neill said he probably met officer McDonald for the first time right outside the precinct's front door when he was commanding officer for Central Park.

"The first time I met him I knew he was a special person,”  O’Neill recalled.  

“To be able to live your life incapacitated like that physically but certainly not mentally,  and to share that message of love is pretty special. I’m not sure they’re too many people on this planet that can do that."  

The police commissioner spoke of the incredible impact Steven had not only on the NYPD family but on the city and beyond. 

"You live a legacy of hope, of forgiving, not hating,” he said.  

"His legacy carries on, gives us hope to live in peace and make this world a better place.” 

Steven’s son Conor said the days before his father’s death were the worst of his life. He appreciated the loyalty and love his family received since his father was shot and since his passing.  He credited this support for giving him the strength to carry on. 

“My father was giant in my life, he was my hero, he gave me all the opportunities I have,” said Conor, 30,  who was born three months after the shooting to the newlyweds. 

“Steven was an exceptional human, the best of the best. He was a loyal and loving husband and a devoted and a very passionate father,”  Steven's widow Patti-Ann McDonald said.

"Even before he was shot by a 15-year-old boy Steven always believed it was his duty to spread God’s message of love,” Mrs. McDonald said.

"No matter what happened he always believed in the good of everyone from his time as a Navy Corpsman to his career as a dedicated cop," she said.   

“Steven always put others before himself to fulfill his life of service. Steven made life confined to a wheelchair and a ventilator look extremely easy.  He never showed the pain he suffered each and everyday while going though daily medical procedures that were excruciating. He never complained about the pain that would wake him up on a constant basis.  Steven lived life with a purpose to show us a better way." 

Patti-Ann McDonald, with her son Conor by her side, addressing the crowd.  

Patti-Ann read an anonymous letter her husband received a few years after the shooting the family found inspiration from. The author said he was knitting a sweater for their young son.   

Mrs. McDonald said at times when she and her son became bitter and sad about the pain and suffering Steven had to endure he would read them the letter to "show the purpose of his sacrifice." 

The letter came from a cyclist who was in the park that fateful Saturday in 1986.  The bike rider wrote that he had "a strong premonition that something was going to happen to him." He credited the officer for protecting him that day.  

“I knew something was wrong I just didn’t know what,” the moving letter dated March 16,1992 said in part. 

He was supposed to ride three or four laps around the park that day but stopped after one. He said he entered the park on East 91st Street but felt a very strange sensation as he headed north.  

"By the time I reached the furthest norther part of the park I was in a total state of dread.  I knew something was wrong, I jus’t didn’t know what. I had left my Church many years ago but I  started praying and promising god that if I just got passed that part of the park then I would return home without cycling the laps I had planned."  

He wrote that by the time he had circled around and reached the southern part of the park police cars were screaming past him racing north.

“I had never seen so many. But now I knew that whatever it was I had been feeling had just been answered for me by those cars."     

After he got home he heard on the news what had happened. 

"You see I always felt after that time that you had somehow protected me,"  Patti-Ann continued to read, her voice cracking.

"I don’t know how I don’t know why but I felt that you personally had kept me safe and I owe you a lot for that. So I want to thank you and tell you that every stitch with which I knit this sweater for your little boy was knitted with love and deep thanks. I hope you and your family will always have love, health and great happiness.”

The author signed it, "Love a friend.”

Patti-Ann thanked the many people for their support and love. 

“Steven would tell us in the darkest times of your life, never let anger destroy your will to live. Give all the love that you have to give and make this world the best it can be."

She then thanked her son. 

“I just want to say I was so blessed. I was pregnant with Conor when all this happened. Conor has been the strength that got Steven through those many years and myself and has helped me tremendously this past year and I love you Conor,” she said.

The mother and son then hugged.

NYPD bagpipers played during the unveiling of the plaque.

Cardinal Timothy Dolan ended the moving ceremony with a Benediction.

"He became a part of every home, so how appropriate dear Lord that we would honor him in this park called New York City’s backyard." 

The plaque is inscribed with the words of St. Francis.

“Lord make me an instrument of your peace.”

Steven McDonald lived by that.

A man of deep faith he publicly forgave the cold-blooded teen eight months after the shooting from his bed at Bellevue Hospital. 

 “I feel sorry for him,” McDonald said of Jones.

 “I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life,” he said in a statement read by his wife at his son’s baptism held in a chapel at Bellevue Hospital in early 1987.

McDonald also expressed hope that he could further the dialogue with the offender after he was released from prison to inspire others.

Jones served nine years in prison for the shooting.  On September 9, 1995, three days after being released on parol, Jones was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Steven McDonald was appointed to the NYPD on July 16, 1984.  He was assigned to the Central Park Pct. a year later on July 8, 1985.

A year after being assigned to the park tragedy struck.   He was 29-year-old on that fateful summer day.  

Officer McDonald and his partner were working undercover at about 4:15 p.m. on Saturday, July 12, 1986.  They were patrolling in a gray unmarked anticrime car near the north end of the park when they spotted and began following three “suspicious” youths.  

McDonald followed them onto a wooded path near the Harlem Meer boathouse at 107th St. and East Drive.

One of the boys, 15-year-old Shavod Jones, pulled out a concealed .22 caliber,  “Saturday night special” revolver and fired several shots hitting the officer three times. One bullet hit McDonald in the left side of his neck, shattering into fragments that lodged in his spinal column.  

He collapsed onto the rain-soaked dirt and was rushed to the hospital.

McDonald was left a quadriplegic and unable to breath on his own. 

Responding police quickly arrested three suspects within minutes.  Jones was convicted by a jury in less than two hours and sentenced to 3-1/3-to-10 years, the maximum for a juvenile offender.

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson,  Mayor Bill de Blasio, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan share a light moment after the ceremony.   (Photos: Geoffrey Croft/NYC Park Advocates) Click on Images to enlarge.

After the plaque dedication ceremony Patti-Ann said she had many emotions.  She said she felt "very proud,” that the city erected the plaque in the Central Park Pct. where he worked.

"Steven loved working here,” she told A Walk In The Park.  

"Even after the shooting he used to come through the park and spend many hours here visiting the officers and to have his picture up here forever is just a beautiful thing especially after everything we’ve gone through this past year and what he lived through the past thirty plus years to see him being recognized like this, I mean it helps, it helps with the grieving process.  Just very grateful to the City of New York for their love and support and the New York City Police Department who have been phenomenal not just this past year but for the past thirty plus years,”  she said.   

The McDonald family were staples at many events in the city throughout the years.  They were  also frequent visitors at New York Ranger games.  She described her husband as a huge Ranger fan.

"It was something that Conor and him were able to do together," Patti-Ann recalled. 

“Obviously with Steven being a quadriplegic and using a respirator there weren’t many physical things they could do together and they were able to go to games together and experience that bonding together which was very nice.  I have pictures of Conor on Steven's lap when he was a little boy, two or three years old and when he got older standing next to him. It was something they both shared and loved together,” she said.        

"Go Rangers,” Patti-Ann said with a smile. 

Steven is an inspiration to countless officers and is an enduring spirt of the city.

“There is more love in this city than there are street corners, ” he wrote in his 1989 book, “The Steven McDonald Story.”

Steven McDonald with his wife Patti Ann and
Steven McDonald with his wife Patti Ann and 2-year-old son Conor in their Malverne home on June 1, 1989. (Photo: J. Michael Dombroski/Newsday)

Read More:

A Walk In The Park - January 10, 2017 - By Geoffrey Croft 


  1. I'm so touched and inspired by the story of this man, his family and the legacy he leaves behind. Many can be extraordinary in moments of caring and compassion towards others, we need more of that given the world we live in.
    Here is an example of how adversity can build character and generosity. To be extraordinary when life has been harsh is a moment by moment choice that the McDonalds clearly demonstrated and continue to do so. Thank you for being role models and for your remarkable service Steven, Patty Ann and Conor.

  2. Thank you for a well written, full bodied story. Lots of details -feels like I was there chatting with his widow. RIP Officer Steven.