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September 26, 2017

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Paralyzed NY detective who became voice for peace dies

NEW YORK -- New York Police Department (NYPD) Detective Steven McDonald, who was paralyzed by a teenage gunman's bullet in 1986 but publicly forgave the shooter and became an international voice for peace, died Tuesday at age 59.

McDonald had been hospitalized Friday on Long Island after suffering a heart attack and died there, the NYPD said.

"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."

McDonald was a stocky 29-year-old patrolman on July 12, 1986, when he spotted bicycle thief Shavod "Buddha" Jones and two other teenagers in Central Park. He moved to frisk one of them because he believed he had a weapon in his sock. Then, the 15-year-old Jones pulled out a weapon of his own and shot McDonald 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 his story had an unlikely ending: McDonald believed what happened on that day was nothing less than God's will, intended to turn him into a messenger of God's word. On March 1, 1987, the day of their son's baptism, McDonald had his wife read a statement about his feelings toward the teen who crippled him. McDonald, who had struggled with finding his new niche in life, knew what he had to say.

"I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life," McDonald said.

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.

"I have my days when I'm not feeling well — emotionally, physically, spiritually," McDonald said in a 2006 interview at his Malverne home. "But it's been a very, very active life."

In the first years after the shooting, McDonald drew attention like a rock star. He met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, sat for an interview with Barbara Walters. He did the David Letterman show and co-authored a book with his wife.

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