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Thousands Mourn Heroic NYPD Detective Known as Voice for Peace

The hero cop, who was shot by a brazen teen in 1986 while on patrol in Central Park, died Tuesday at a hospital

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    Thousands of colleagues, friends, family members and strangers gathered Friday to mourn NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, who died Tuesday. Marc Santia reports. (Published Friday, Jan. 13, 2017)

    Thousands of colleagues, friends, family members and strangers gathered Friday to mourn NYPD Det. Steven McDonald, who died Tuesday. 

    Police officers lined up in neat rows outside St. Patrick's Cathedral for the paralyzed detective best known as an international voice for peace and a source of support for other wounded police officers. Among the distinguished guests were NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill, Former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bill de Blasio.

    The late detective will be buried at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.

    An NYPD motorcade rolled down an uncharacteristically silent Fifth Avenue as a throng of priests dressed in pristine white robes looked on from inside the church. The NYPD Emerald Society, donning their traditional navy and hunter green kilts, waved New York state, NYPD and American flags as they marched along the avenue.

    Looking somber and stoic, Patricia Ann McDonald clutched her son's arm as officers carefully removed the casket from a silver hearse. Conor McDonald lifted his white-gloved hand to his NYPD cap to salute his father for the final time. 

    Seven pallbearers hoisted McDonald's casket onto their shoulders and moved toward the cathedral, followed by a throng of family members and NYPD officers who silently filed inside amid the sounds of bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace." Bells could be heard for blocks as they tolled throughout the morning.

    Mayor de Blasio extended his condolences to the McDonald family as he spoke at the podium. He praised his commitment to the NYPD and his message of love for all, saying that the late detective was New York City personified in one man.

    "We feel pain and we feel joy that we knew him, and we learned the right way to live from him," he said. "He showed us that the work of policing is profoundly based on love and compassion for your fellow man and woman. He lived it every day."

    De Blasio personally thanked Conor McDonald for continuing his father's legacy, and for being a shining example on the force.

    "It may feel difficult to go on without him, but you've already been given that great gift of his example. NYPD will continue to feel the faith, the vision of your great father through your work," he said.

    NYPD Commissioner James O'Neill called McDonald "one of the most remarkable men he's ever met" and "one of the best cops to don a uniform."

    "Steven's is a life that underscores why people want to become police officers," O'Neill said. "Despite using a ventilator, Steven's voice was always strong, just like his message."

    McDonald, 59, who suffered a heart attack last week, died at a Long Island hospital. He joined the force in July 1984, but remained on the New York Police Department's payroll as a detective until his death.

    He was on patrol on July 12, 1986, when he spotted bicycle thief Shavod "Buddha" Jones and two other teenagers in Central Park. When he moved to frisk one of them, the 15-year-old Jones shot McDonald three times, with one bullet piercing the officer's spinal column.

    About six months later, McDonald made a statement that defined the rest of his life: "I forgive him and hope he can find peace and purpose in his life."

    After Jones was sentenced to 10 years in prison for attempted murder, McDonald spoke of his hope that the pair would go on speaking tours together to offer a mutual message of peace. But shortly after Jones' release from prison in 1995, he died in a motorcycle accident.

    In the years following the shooting, McDonald met with Pope John Paul II and Nelson Mandela, and sat for an interview with Barbara Walters. He also took his message of forgiveness to Israel, Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

    News of his death Tuesday sparked a groundswell of condolences on social media; Twitter erupted with remembrances for the police officer who touched so many lives, both at home and abroad. 

    The New York Rangers established the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in his honor following the 1987-88 season. Named in his honor, the annual award is given to the Rangers player who goes beyond the normal call of duty.

    McDonald was a huge fan of the team, and every season the team honored him and his family on the ice.

    "Steven was, quite simply, nothing short of a giant. He touched all of us, he changed all of us," said former New York Ranger Adam Graves, who received the Extra Effort Award in five of his 10 seasons with the Rangers.

    Rick Diamond/Getty Images for Skyville

    "The name McDonald isn't just synonymous with being a Rangers fan," said Commissioner O'Neill. "It is synonymous with being part of an amazing bond of police officers."

    The hero detective was an iconic figure of sacrifice for the NYPD and inspired many, including his own son Conor, who followed in his father's footsteps by joining the NYPD in 2010.

    The younger McDonald said his father was "the greatest man I could ask to be my father," recouting his father's daily 5 a.m. good morning phone calls and weekly trips to Boston College for a father-son meal at applebees. He warmly recalled the countless Rangers games the two attended together, which he considers to be his most beloved memories.

    "My dad loved life, he lived it to the fullest," Conor said. "He wanted to make sure his time on Earth wasn't wasted. He made it it his mission to have all of us realize that love must win."

    He also emphasized his father's decades-long commitment to the NYPD both on and off the force, making mention of a saying he made up years ago: "There's more love in New York City than there are street corners."

    "My dad loved the NYPD 'til the end. He loved his uniform, he loved the shield, he loved the men and women who woke up every day to protect this city."

    In September, the elder McDonald donned his navy blue police uniform to see his son receive a gold detective's shield during his promotion ceremony. He told the Daily News that the promotion was very emotional.