When MBTA Transit Police officer Richard “Dic” Donohue awoke from surgery after being shot during the pursuit of the Boston Marathon bombers in Watertown, his mind was already made up: He had to get strong and return to the job he loved.
He had lost so much blood that he’d nearly died, and at first he could not bear to do even 10 pushups on his knees. He was determined, and after nearly two years, in May 2015, he was back on the job and was promoted to sergeant.
But on Tuesday, Donohue, 36, announced that he was retiring. The chronic pain he still battles daily makes it impossible, he said, to deal with the rigors of the profession.
“It is bittersweet,” he said of his decision to leave the force and focus on teaching and speaking about law enforcement. “Being a police officer is a very rewarding career. It’s challenging, it’s tough, but at the end of the day, every time you step out there in uniform it’s a chance to make a difference.”
Donohue was critically wounded on April 19, 2013. Police had pursued Marathon bombers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev through the streets of Watertown after the Tsarnaevs shot and killed a Massachusetts Institute Technology officer, Sean Collier, 27, as he sat in his cruiser on the Cambridge campus.
In Watertown, the Tsarnaevs threw bombs at police as officers fired hundreds of rounds. A report issued by the Middlesex district attorney’s office in June 2015 concluded that Donahue was probably shot accidentally by one of 19 officers who were firing at the Tsarnaevs.
Donahue almost bled to death, but fellow officers, firefighters, and emergency personnel rushed to his aid and whisked him to Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge.
“In our time of need, he was the first one to show up and put his life on the line, and he almost lost it,” said former Watertown police chief Ed Deveau, who led the department during the bombings and subsequent manhunt. “He’s someone that I think about pretty much every day, and the sacrifices he made, and his family made, to come and protect the people of Watertown.”
Both Deveau and Transit Police Superintendent Richard Sullivan said they recalled talking with Donohue after his injury and hearing his fierce desire to return to work.
“He’s a credit to the profession,” Sullivan said. “Through his hard work and determination he was able to come back to the job when many didn’t believe he would be able to. We’re proud of him. He’ll always be a member of the Transit Police family, and we wish him nothing but the best of luck in all his future endeavors.”
Donohue recently accepted an adjunct professorship at Fisher College, teaching criminal justice, and he is often a speaker at law enforcement and community functions. He said Tuesday that he plans to continue speaking about the lessons he’s learned — including how to be prepared, adaptable, and resilient — and about the good that came from tragedy.
“Most of all, it’s the people around you that have made such a horrible situation, such a horrible day, become in the end a positive, and show the amount of good in this world,” he said. “The outpouring of community support from the moment I was shot — my friends in college starting fund-raisers, people showing up at my house with food to help us out, to offer child care. So many things.”
Donohue is also an active ambassador and board member for the American Red Cross; blood donations helped save his life.
Donohue and his wife have a 3-year-old son and are expecting another in April, he said. One day, he said, he’ll show his boys archival footage and try to explain to them the long and complicated story.
“How it’s been truly a miracle, and a long tough journey,” he said.
Still, when he looks back, there’s nothing he would change about that night in Watertown, when he heard the call and raced to help his fellow officers.
“Would I do it again?” he asked. “Absolutely. That’s the big takeaway. I’d be there for them, and I know they’d be there for me if I was in trouble.”