Steven McDonald spent the last 30 years of his life in a wheelchair, but the NYPD officer shot by a teen in Central Park chose forgiveness, becoming "an international emblem," per CNN. McDonald died Tuesday at a Long Island hospital at age 59, just days after suffering a heart attack, the NYPD announced—and his inspirational story is once more making the rounds, per the New York Times. "No one could have predicted that Steven would touch so many people, in New York and around the world," said NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill. "Like so many cops, Steven joined the NYPD to make a difference in people's lives. And he accomplished that every day." McDonald was just 29, with a pregnant wife and only two years on the force, when he was shot by 15-year-old Shavod Jones, whom he had stopped for loitering with two other boys on July 12, 1986.
Doctors didn't think he'd make it more than a few months, but McDonald persevered and forgave. "I'm sometimes angry," he said at son Conor's baptism, a few months after the shooting. "But more often I feel sorry for [Jones]. I forgive him and hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life." The two even wrote each other—after McDonald sent stamps, stationery, and a note that said, "Let's start a dialogue"—though that ended when McDonald declined to help Jones seek parole (Jones died in a motorcycle accident days after his 1995 release). McDonald traveled to schools, churches, and conflict-ridden areas around the globe to spread his message of faith and forgiveness, and to speak on gun control. Son Conor, now 29, became an NYPD officer in 2010 and is now a sergeant. "[McDonald is] this city's greatest example of heroism and grace," says Mayor Bill de Blasio.