Steven McDonald, the New York City police detective who was paralyzed from the neck down after being shot in 1986, died Tuesday at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, his close friend, John Bates, tells PEOPLE. He was 59.
McDonald, who was Catholic, lived a deeply spiritual life after the shooting incident. This spirituality enabled McDonald to forgive the 15-year-old who shot him in Central Park – and to find the strength to move forward.
McDonald was helped by a deep friendship with Father Mychal Judge, the beloved New York City fire department chaplain killed on 9/11 as he aided firefighters on the scene.
“He helped me understand life was worth living,” McDonald, an active detective with the NYPD, told PEOPLE last August ahead of the the annual walk McDonald and Bates started to honor Father Mychal.
McDonald never regained consciousness after he took ill Friday, says Bates, who was with McDonald at the hospital during the four days before he died.
“I told him I loved him and I told him he was my best buddy,” says Bates.
McDonald leaves behind a wife, Patricia Ann Norris-McDonald, who is the mayor of Malverne, New York, and a son, Conor, a sergeant with the NYPD.
A full NYPD funeral is planned for 9:30 a.m. Friday at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, and Cardinal Timothy Dolan, a close friend of McDonald’s, will officiate, Bates says.
At McDonald’s wake on Wednesday at St. Agnes Parish Center in Rockville Centre, says Bates, a visitor admiring an array of photos detailing the detective’s life and good works around the world said: “He was the Mother Teresa of law enforcement.”
Dolan wrote on Twitter, “Det. Steven McDonald was an icon of mercy & forgiveness, a prophet of the dignity of all human life. My prayerful condolences to his family.”