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Paralyzed officer sees son baptized, forgives attacker

NEW YORK -- A wheelchair-bound city policeman, paralyzed by the bullets of a teenage theft suspect, smiled bravely during the emotional baptism of his baby son, then surrendered to tears as he forgave his attacker.

Officer Steven McDonald, paralyzed from the neck down since being shot in Central Park on July 12, watched Sunday as his first child, Conor Patrick, was christened by Roman Catholic Cardinal John O'Connor in a chapel of Bellevue Hospital Center.

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McDonald, propped up in a wheelchair with his face held forward by two small boards, smiled as his brown-haired, 1-month-old son was doused with holy water during the baptism attended by more than 250 family members and friends, as well as by Mayor Edward Koch, actress Maureen O'Hara and philanthropist Milton Petrie.

The baby was born Jan. 29, the day McDonald's 15-year-old attacker was sentenced. The christening took place on McDonald's 30th birthday.

The infant, dressed in a long, white traditional gown, was quiet during the mass. Afterward, McDonald's wife Patti Ann, 24, held the baby up so the officer could kiss him. It was only the third time that McDonald had seen his infant son.

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At a news conference following the ceremony, McDonald's eyes filled with tears as his wife, her voice quaking, read a letter from him.

'I became a police officer to help the people of New York in any small way I could. My father and grandfather before me had the same dream,' his letter said. 'When I first wore the badge of a police officer, I was so proud to and hoped that I would be able to live up to its tradition of courage and compassion.'

Speaking of Shavod 'Buddha' Jones, the teenager whose shots paralyzed him, McDonald said, 'I forgive him, and I hope that he can find peace and purpose in his life.'

McDonald, with a breathing tube visible above his yellow sweater, turned his head and focused his eyes periodically on reporters, visitors and his wife.

McDonald was shot by Jones after McDonald and his partner stopped Jones and two other youths in Central Park for questioning in connection with a bicycle theft.

Jones was sentenced to three and one-third to 10 years for shooting McDonald, the maximum sentence for a juvenile.

McDonald, whose condition doctors say was not expected to improve significantly, 'was so excited' about his son's christening, his wife said.

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'It was a beautiful ceremony,' she said, 'It's a nice feeling that people care so much about Steven.'

Koch, his eyes red with tears, said, 'Some people know how to live through tragedies better than others. They (the McDonalds) handle theirs better than anybody else I've ever met.'

Petrie, an elderly New Jersey philanthropist who said his father was a police officer, said he established a $100,000 educational trust fund the McDonalds' child. Last summer, he gave the family $20,000 for medical expenses.

O'Hara, who said she visited McDonald as soon as she heard she was his favorite actress, said, 'I feel like I've known him all my life. They're wonderful people.'

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