A New York City police detective who became famous after publicly forgiving the teenage gunman who left him paralyzed 30 years ago was remembered at a funeral service at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Friday.
Thousands of police officers, dignitaries, friends, family and others inspired by McDonald's compassion attended. Eulogies were given by Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner James O'Neill, and McDonald's son Conor.
McDonald was on the force for less than two years when he was shot in the line of duty by a 15-year-old gunman in Central Park in 1986. Months later, at Conor's baptism, he forgave the gunman in a statement read by his wife Patti.
Initially, doctors did not expect McDonald to survive. But he went on to become a man many called a messenger of peace and forgiveness, often speaking locally and even internationally, in places like Northern Ireland and Bosnia.
McDonald set a strong example of the power of compassion for fellow officers. Officer Merritt Reilly met McDonald after the detective had reached out offering help to his partner, who had lost his son. Reilly said McDonald kept in touch to offer help.
"He always cared about everybody else but himself," Reilly said. "Always put others first."
Reilly said McDonald made him want to do better, too.
"As cops, we get hardened to people around us, you know, or the bad things that go on out on the street," he said. "Just being around him, you just looked for a way to find the good in people."
Others, including Deputy Inspector Ernest Morales III, Commanding Officer of the 42nd Precinct, likewise admired McDonald's capacity for forgiveness and what he called his enduring strength despite his injuries.
"Definitely a special individual, someone who inspired you to always do the best," Morales said. "He never let his handicap get in his way, and always inspired hope and forgiveness."
That message carried on to many around him. Friends like Colleen Guidarelli said he was always willing to help those in need. "He's the most kindest, giving, sincerest person I have ever met," she said. "To me he is a saint."
McDonald died Tuesday at 59, shortly after being hospitalized for a heart attack.
His son Conor is currently a sergeant with the NYPD.