The gym full of noisy teenagers at Central Catholic High School turned quiet yesterday as they listened to the soft voice of Steven McDonald tell them why he forgave the person who shot him and left him paralyzed.
It all started during a routine patrol in New York City's Central Park. It was the summer of 1986 and there had been a rash of bike thefts in the park. Officer McDonald and his partner saw three teenagers acting suspiciously, and they approached the trio to ask them questions.
As Mr. McDonald approached the boys, ages 13, 14, and 15, he noticed one had a bulge in his sock that looked like a weapon. As he knelt to feel the boy's sock, the 15 year old pulled a pistol and fired point blank at Mr. McDonald's head. The bullet entered above his right eye and knocked him to the ground. The boy then stood over him and pumped six more bullets into his body.
Mr. McDonald has spent the last 14 years in a wheelchair, has around-the-clock care, and needs a respirator to breathe. When he talks, he must speak between breaths, and his speech, while clear, is hushed.
A lot has been taken from Mr. McDonald. But he told the audience yesterday that he has never had doubts about forgiving his shooter.
“I've surprised everyone by saying I forgave the young man who shot me,” he said. “But I did it to free myself of those destructive emotions, from hatred.”
He eventually was able to speak and correspond with the youth, who was caught and sent to prison. Three days after he was released from prison he died in a motorcycle accident. Mr. McDonald's little boy, after hearing of the death of the man who shot his father, approached his teacher and asked if the class could pray for the man, Mr. McDonald said.
Mr. McDonald, 43, told his story to about 1,600 teens from public and private schools in the Toledo area who gathered at Central Catholic.
His presentation was part of the third annual “Erase the Hate” campaign sponsored by local schools, churches, and others. The campaign is aimed at raising community awareness about preventing violence and hatred in Toledo.
Mr. McDonald remains a New York City police officer, but he spends most of his time traveling around the New York area speaking about tolerance and forgiveness.
The last three summers, he has been to Northern Ireland and visited with Catholics and Protestants there about the hatred and intolerance between the two groups.
His message is one of forgiveness and the importance of God. His spiritual life has helped him come to terms with what happened to him, he said.
He told the teens that American society too often ignores the importance of prayer and spirituality.
He quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., who spoke of how society too often has “knelt down before the god of science” and the “god of pleasure.”