McDonald was shot three times in the line of duty by 15-year-old Shavod Jones (1971–1995) whom he was questioning about bicycle thefts in Central Park. Detective McDonald and a co-worker were on patrol in Central Park, because there had been reports a robbery in the park. Three young boys between the age of 13 and 15 looked suspicious and started running away when the two police officers went towards them. They split up, and McDonald found them hiding in some bushes. He started to question them, and noticed something in the sock of one of the boys and when he wanted to see what it was, he was shot and nearly killed. The first of the three bullets that hit Steven McDonald hit him in the head, above his eye. The second hit his throat which caused him to have a speaking disability and the third shattered his spine, paralyzing him from the neck down and leaving him quadriplegic.
Jones served nine years in prison for the shooting, and was killed in a motorcycle accident on September 9, 1995, three days after his release on parole. Earlier, Jones called Detective Steven McDonald to apologize, but the two never met in person after the incident.
During McDonald's recovery in Bellevue Hospital, he met Father Mychal Judge, who became a close friend to him, his wife Patti Ann and son Conor. McDonald formally identified Judge's body on the evening of September 11, 2001.
He has become a noted public speaker, notably on behalf of the NYPD, peace initiatives in Northern Ireland, the U.S. Navy (he was a hospital corpsman) and speaking with students about violence and forgiveness.
His son, Conor McDonald, joined the NYPD in 2010.
Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award
The New York Rangers of the NHL established the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award in his honor following the 1987–88 season. Detective McDonald personally presents a Ranger with a trophy and a $25,000 check (in the player's name) made out to the Steven McDonald Foundation.
- "Profile of Steven McDonald". Breaking the Cycle. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
- Fournier, Keith A. (11 September 2008). "Fr. Mychal Judge: Ground Zero Hero". Catholic Online. Retrieved 16 June 2009.
- Ford, Michael (2002). Father Mychal Judge: An Authentic American Hero. Paulist Press. ISBN 0-8091-0552-7.
- "Wife of paralyzed cop elected village mayor". New York Daily News. Associated Press. March 21, 2007. Retrieved 9 August 2009.
- "Extra Effort Award". New York Rangers.
- The Steven McDonald Story at Google Books. Pocket Books, 1991.
- Why Forgive, pp 172–192. Plough Publishing, New York, 2010.