MANHATTAN — More than 30 years after a teen gunman's bullet paralyzed a young newlywed police officer in Central Park, a plaque was dedicated on Wednesday in Steven McDonald's Central Park Precinct for the line-of-duty shooting that took three decades to kill him.
The moving ceremony was held on the first anniversary of Detective First Grade McDonald's death.
"I just want to say I was so blessed I was pregnant with Conor when this happened," McDonald's widow, Patti Ann, said of their only child — now a 30-year-old NYPD sergeant, who stood at her side.
Earlier, Sgt. Conor McDonald had paid tribute to his mother, when he brought her to the podium, noting that his father often said, "If it wasn't for Patti Ann, we wouldn't be here today."
She helped him go on, Conor said, when his mother was three months pregnant at the time of the shooting, often telling McDonald that "Conor needed him." The son then joked, "He named me. There was no option about that."
Conor was actually named for a character in the Leon Uris book, "Trinity."
It was Steven McDonald's favorite book, and he'd told Patti Ann if they had a son, he wanted to give him the name Conor.
Many New Yorkers long assumed Conor McDonald was named after the late John Cardinal O'Connor — who was a special friend to the family and baptized Conor in Bellevue Hospital on Steven McDonald's 30th birthday on March 1, 1987.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner James O'Neill began the ceremony with words that noted Steven McDonald's iconic status in New York City, a man who lived as a quadriplegic for 30-plus years, paralyzed from the neck down.
The mayor called McDonald "a powerful example" and pointed out again that McDonald had forgiven the 15-year-old, suspected bike thief who shot him three times. The teen's name was Shavod Jones, and he was killed by a motorcycle that hit him, several days after he was released from a juvenile detention center.
O'Neill was once commanding officer at the Central Park Precinct, and he remembered the first time he met Steven McDonald in the parking lot outside.
"I knew he was a special person," O'Neill said, "to be able to live your life incapacitated, as he was — physically, but certainly not mentally — to share that message of love is pretty special. I'm not sure there are too many human beings on this planet who could do that."
Before the bronze plaque was unveiled, Patti Ann McDonald — who is mayor of her hometown in Malverne, Long Island — grew emotional as she read a letter that was sent to Steven on March 16, 1992. At the time, Conor was just 5 years old and the letter writer had sent Steven a knitted green and white sweater for his little boy, in honor of St. Patrick's Day on March 17.
The woman did not identify herself, but she noted she'd been cycling in Central Park on July 12, 1986, and had felt a complete sense of dread on the bicycle path, which was surprisingly deserted. She had a premonition that something bad was going to happen to her. She promised herself she would resume praying and renew her faith, if she made it safely out of the park.
That's when she saw the ambulances screaming by, responding to McDonald's shooting.
Patti Ann McDonald cried as she read the letter writer's words: "I always felt after that time you somehow protected me. I thank you."
The writer then added about the sweater, "Every stitch was knitted with love."
Love is what Steven McDonald was all about. Love for his God. Love for his family. Love for the NYPD. Love for his city.
The plaque unveiled in Central Park Wednesday notes the supreme sacrifice he made doing his job, noting that he lived more than 30 years on a ventilator after the shooting that radically altered his life forever.