In the years since a gunman’s bullet left him a quadriplegic, Det. Steven McDonald, along with his wife Patti Ann, would sometimes pass near the spot in Central Park where he was wounded.
It is a gently sloped area of green, surrounded by a copse of trees, just off 106th Street and Fifth Avenue and known as Fort Landscape.
“ ‘What a beautiful place to start a terrible day,’ ” Patti Ann McDonald remembered her husband remarking when they’d journey through the park space.
Thursday, 32 years to the day and close to where 15-year-old Shavod Jones shot McDonald, a bronze plaque was unveiled to commemorate the detective’s inspirational life.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill and a host of other city officials, including former Mayor David Dinkins, applauded as they saw the plaque for the first time.
McDonald died on Jan. 10, 2017 of cardiac arrest after living for years in a wheelchair and learning how to speak while breathing with the aid of a respirator.
The plaque, resting on a flat stone, bears McDonald’s name and a simple inscription: “Born out of tragedy July 12, 1986 came a life of service and forgiveness. Steven became a messenger of hope and good will to the community and City that he loved.” The inscription ends with the NYPD motto “Fidelis Ad Mortem” (Faithful Unto Death) and the dates of McDonald’s birth and the day he died.
He traveled around the world with a message of peace and forgiveness that was much more than idle words — McDonald forgave Jones, who after getting out of prison for the shooting, died in a 1995 motorcycle crash.
“This is a place where something horrible happened. And we don’t feel the same today as we did back then 32 years ago,” de Blasio told those gathered in Central Park. “The world has changed in so many ways. Thank God, for the better.”
McDonald’s son Conor, himself an NYPD sergeant, said he learned many life lessons from watching his father persevere and overcome so many physical and emotional hurdles while remaining upbeat.
“He gave me inspiration and faith in what a human being could do,” Conor McDonald told reporters. “You guys don’t realize how painful and brutal my dad’s life was each and every day after the shooting. He went through life with so many obstacles, but he never complained, ever, and that is what I have taken from his life.”
In a brief statement before the unveiling of the plaque, Patti Ann McDonald, the mayor of Malverne, thanked the Central Park Conservancy for installing it. She was accompanied by her mother, Sheila Norris, also of Malverne, and her son’s fiancée Katti Sullivan of Long Beach.
The spot where the plaque will stay as a permanent tribute to Steven McDonald is steeped in religious significance. Nearby is an old stone wall identified by a sign as the remains of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul of New York, a 19th-century religious order. Several members of the Sisters of Life, an order founded in 1991 by the late Cardinal John O’Connor, also attended the unveiling.
“Each of us has to decide for ourselves, how we deal with adversity when we face it and what we are willing to do to overcome it,” O’Neill said. “Steven’s example can be a guide.”