Former Buffalo Police Detective Michael R. O'Connor, who subdued a gunman who shot him in the chest at point-blank range in 1975, died Sunday in Absolut Care of Orchard Park after a lengthy illness. He was 72.
Although the bullet missed Detective O'Connor's heart by only an inch, he wrestled the man to the ground outside a barber shop on Broadway and held him there until other officers came to help. Though gravely wounded, he was back on duty in less than three months.
His bravery earned him the Police Department's Medal of Valor and the William J. Conners Gold Medal for heroism. He had sent the man who shot him to jail for a previous crime two years earlier.
It was not the first time Detective O'Connor had faced down a gunman. In 1974, a man caught trying to use an outdated credit card put a gun to his head while he was working off-duty as a store security officer in Hengerer's department store in downtown Buffalo. The gunman, who was killed a month later in a shootout with police in Pennsylvania, fled when a female security officer screamed.
He earned several other honors during his career with the Buffalo Police Department, including a commendation for his role in a fire rescue earlier in 1975. After his retirement, he was given the Commissioner's Award of Merit in 1984 for helping disarm a teen holding police at bay with a shotgun in South Buffalo.
Born in Lackawanna, he attended Holy Family Elementary School and Baker Victory High School. He earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Buffalo State College and served in the Army in the mid-1950s. He later earned a master's degree in continuing education from the University at Buffalo.
Detective O'Connor joined the Buffalo Police Department in 1962 and worked in all sections of the city. As a detective, he served on the Robbery Squad and the Narcotics Squad. He retired from Precinct 15 in South Buffalo in the early 1980s and became head investigator for Visa card fraud with Empire of America Federal Savings.
"But his heart was always with the Police Department," his wife, Patricia, said.
After Empire closed, he taught criminal justice for BOCES in Erie and Niagara counties, then became director of criminal victims at Buffalo's Northwest Community Center. He retired for health reasons in 1992.
In 1989, Detective O'Connor was a member of the coordinating committee that established Greater Buffalo Metropolitan Crime Stoppers Inc., which helps police by publicizing wanted suspects.
A Hamburg resident, he is survived by his wife of 47 years, the former Patricia Marshall; two sons, Michael T. and James; and two daughters, Nancy Hageman and Maureen Maglietto.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. today in St. Bernadette Catholic Church, S-5930 Abbott Road, Orchard Park.