I got out to Morrell Park earlier today long before the full shock of Officer Patrick McDonald's murder had taken hold of his tiny Northeast Philly neighborhood. Many of his neighbors were just getting home from work and seemed to have no idea why some people were standing on their steps, sobbing. A few were kind enough to talk with me about what Patrick meant to his friends and loved ones. This is their story:
FOR MUCH of the past 30 years, Patrick McDonald was the heart of Morrell Park.
At first glance, he was like a lot of guys from the tiny, tidy Northeast Philadelphia enclave — a tough, hard-nosed son of a fireman.
But as the years wore on, McDonald’s friends watched in wonder as other qualities emerged.
He proved to be kind and generous, and had a knack for leadership — attributes that seemed to grow even stronger when he joined the Police Department eight years ago.
His neighbors — who were thrilled a few years ago when he bought the house he grew up in — considered him their son, brother, protector.
Yesterday, they wept for their fallen hero.
Word spread quickly up and down the winding, neatly manicured streets of Morrell Park after McDonald, 30, was fatally shot in North Philadelphia yesterday afternoon.
The neighborhood has long been home to cops and firefighters, many of whom stopped what they were doing and ran outside to mourn together outside McDonald’s home on Whitehall Lane near Crown Avenue.
One woman stopped on the sidewalk when she learned of McDonald’s murder and cried out, “Pat’s dead! Oh, God, no!” Other neighbors quickly rushed to her side and joined in a tearful embrace.
“Everybody’s devastated. He was the heart of this neighborhood,” said Steve Mentusky, a longtime friend who has spent much of the past year renovating McDonald’s childhood home.
“It’s going to be weird not seeing him coming out in the morning and getting on his police motorcycle. We’re going to be crying around here for days.”
McDonald, a 1996 Archbishop Ryan High School graduate, made a name for himself as an undersized lineman who played through the pain on his high school football team.
In 1995, McDonald earned second-team All-Catholic honors from the coaches in the Catholic League Northern Division.
“He always gave his all. After games, he’d be totally drained. Really beat up,” said his old coach, Glen Galeone.
“I remember that he played with a knee brace. Maybe even had a small tear in there. But you couldn’t keep the kid off the field. That’s how determined he was.”
McDonald’s father, Larry, retired from the Fire Department as a captain in 2004.
Neighbors said he was especially close to his mother, Patricia, and sister, Megan.
We grew up together. He had a huge heart and was like a brother to everyone around here,” said Sean Flanagan.
Mentusky said McDonald had a top-shelf gym installed in his basement and a bar and a big-screen TV put on his back-yard deck.
“On Sundays,” Flanagan said, “everyone around here would go to his house to watch Eagles games. He didn’t care who you were, as long as you liked the Eagles.”
McDonald — an avid weight lifter — added a sense of security in many of his neighbors’ minds.“We felt so protected to live on his street,” said Barbara Covello, as she wiped tears from her eyes. “This just can’t be true.”
As the afternoon wore on, cops and curious passersby visited McDonald’s block and paid respects.
A female cop hysterically sobbed when she broke the news of McDonald’s slaying to her father, who lived next door to McDonald.
“They shot him in the head and chest,” she cried, as other neighbors stood back and quietly wept.
McDonald spent three years taking night and weekend classes at St. Joseph’s University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in 2005.
“He did love being a cop, and was thrilled when they put him in Highway Patrol about four years ago,” said Cheltenham Police Sgt. Dan Farley, who met McDonald in a St. Joe’s criminal justice class.
“He was dedicated. I expected him stay a cop and move up the ranks over time. I was pretty well stunned when I heard what happened to him,” said Farley, whose brother is a Philadelphia police detective.
Highway Patrol Capt. Michael Cochrane reflected on the slain officer last night, while he and other cops waited to escort McDonald’s body to a funeral home.
“He was a great cop, always running somebody down. This is a tremendous loss for us all,” Cochrane said.