Conor McDonald wasn't even born yet when his father, NYPD Det. Stephen McDonald, was shot while patrolling Central Park in 1986, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. He was still in his mother's belly, but that day had a major impact on the young Malverne man.
Despite living through the struggles his dad has had to face due to his severe injury, Conor, now 23, who is also the son of village mayor Patti Norris McDonald, recently became an officer of the New York City Police Department. The decision to follow in the footsteps of his dad was "easy," says Conor, who draws his inspiration from his family, the officers who have become 'like' family, and a group of teenage runaways.
"Especially with my dad's situation, there were people who didn't want me to do it," Conor said regarding joining the Academy last summer. "It was a choice of mine. I wanted to do it to help protect the people who helped my family."
Ever since his father was injured, the McDonald's have received an outpouring of support from the city's police department and Stephen's fellow officers. They helped raise money, retrofit the family's home and make sure their needs were met, since Stephen must use a ventilator and a wheelchair.
"My dad doesn't show it but he goes through a lot of pain. Both my parents have had good days and bad," Conor said. "They're both very strong, but we're also lucky to have so many great people helping us."
He said for as long as he can remember there have always been people, especially police officers, coming in and out of his house constantly, adding, "It's a very busy household." Growing up, these officers would also play with Conor and share stories with him.
"They were like big brothers and uncles," he said. "I always admired them."
In addition to these brave men, Conor explained that many of his actual relatives are police officers, including his grandfather, godfather and ofcourse, his dad, so the idea of continuing this family tradition had always been on his mind. However, it was a group of runaways, not much younger than himself, that recently convinced him to take this course.
After graduating Boston College, Conor spent a year working at a youth runaway shelter in Denver in 2009 through a program affiliated with AmeriCorps.
"I dealt with all different types of kids, victims of various crimes," he said, explaining that he would assist them in developing plans to find work, attend school or save up money.
As his time in Colorado was coming to an end in November 2009, he also learned that he had an opportunity to make it into the next class the New York City Police Academy was putting together.
"It felt like a calling," Conor said. "I had met a lot of great people in the shelter who were victims of heinous crimes." This was his chance to do his part to make sure others did not find themselves in the same situation, he explained.
On July 6, 2010, Conor McDonald was officially sworn into the academy and on Dec. 15 he was handed his gun and shield in a special ceremony, where Commissioner Ray Kelly honored the young man's request to take his shield number - 15978.
"He's been very good to my family over the past years," Conor said. "He's been my mentor for the past five or six years."
When asked why he didn't take his father's number, Conor explained, "My father and I talked about it and we both decided upon taking Commissioner Kelly's. Either way it would have been a great choice to me...my dad is a representation of what a true hero is."
The biggest obstacle Conor and the rest of his fellow graduates had to overcome was physically getting to the ceremony on Dec. 27 at Madison Square Garden after the post-Christmas blizzard crippled transportation in and around the city.
Conor was smart and took the Long Island Railroad into the city before train service was suspended, but was concerned for his family. "He kept texting us, asking, 'Are you sure you're going to make it?' his mother, Patti recalled.
At that point, even 80 of the graduates were still unaccounted for, although luckily they made it just in time for the ceremony to commence, Mayor McDonald said. While some of Conor's relatives were forced to miss the graduation as their flights were canceled, the McDonald's were still able to assemble a caravan of cars to bring 15 friends and family members to witness the milestone. Conor, who graduated with honors, stood alongside 1,142 newly-minted officers, including fellow Malverne native, Joseph Speciale.
"He's a good guy," Conor said of Speciale.
Stephen, who was also dressed in uniform, was honored in the ceremony by Commissioner Kelly and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
"Steven McDonald is a legend in the NYPD for the bravery he showed," Bloomberg said at the graduation.
Steven later told reporters gathered at MSG that "The best days are ahead of us, because of Conor and his classmates."
Since becoming an officer, Conor has already been out patrolling the city streets. He hasn't been assignment a specific area of the city yet, so for now he is in charge of bolstering police presence in high crime areas along with his fellow rookies.
"We each are put on corners by ourselves, but there are plenty of cops on the other surrounding corners," he explained.
"He's liking it," Mayor McDonald told Patch recently. "I'm very proud, but ofcourse, saying lots of prayers."
Conor admitted, "I know I'm going to have my ups and downs," but said he is happy with his decision. "It was a responsibility of mine to pay it forward. It was an easy choice for me."