‘Danny Golden will walk one day’: Family, friends support paralyzed Chicago police officer as he moves to rehab

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Whether it was several hundreds of people gathered together in a church to pray, a few hundred showing up to see him at the hospital, neighborhood children selling “Golden lemonade” to raise money for him, or videos of encouragement from the likes of Vince Vaughn and Tom Brady, there’s no shortage of support for a Chicago police officer and U.S. Army veteran who was shot and injured while off-duty last weekend, as he tried to break up a bar fight in the Beverly neighborhood.

The outpouring of love and well-wishes helped Danny Golden, 31, keep a smile on his face after doctors told him he was permanently paralyzed from the waist down and would never walk again.

But Golden is not one to back down from a challenge, his family and friends all agreed.

“Danny Golden will walk one day,” said Liam Hopkins, a close friend of Golden and his family for some 20 years. “Don’t be surprised. He’s that type of person with that tough mentality that he’s lived his whole life, in service to others. It’s going to be remarkable.”

Hopkins echoed the hopes for a miracle the large crowd had just finished praying for on Thursday at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel, 7740 S. Western Ave., on the city’s Southwest Side. Golden grew up in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood nearby and graduated from St. Rita of Cascia High School in 2009.

Golden watched the prayer service live from Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, where he had been since the shooting.

As about 100 people cheered him on, Golden was released from the hospital Friday afternoon, his family said in an update on a GoFundMe page for his care, which has raised more than $1 million in just a few days. Golden is looking forward to getting to Shirley Ryan AbilityLab, a rehabilitation facility in the Gold Coast neighborhood, his family said.

Besides the GoFundMe, thousands of dollars were raised by children of the community coming together to sell lemonade and handmade jewelry. The Tom Hopkins Foundation — started eight years ago in honor of Liam Hopkins’ father, who died of cancer — raised almost $80,000 for Golden after creating and selling over 9,000 T-shirts with the hashtag “#FightLikeAGolden.”

Hopkins also said it was fellow St. Rita graduate and Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Pat O’Connor who got Buccaneers quarterback Brady to send in a video for Golden after hearing about what had happened.

Golden’s cousin Jack Gorman created a highlights reel on his Instagram, including Brady’s video as well as a number from other legends: former Chicago Bear Olin Kreutz, Chicago White Sox pitcher Dylan Cease, former White Sox shortstop Ozzie Guillen, former Chicago Blackhawks center Eddie Olczyk, Barstool Sports founder David Portnoy, former Chicago Bear and Green Bay Packer Josh Sitton, and Hollywood stars Vaughn, David Hasselhoff and Holt McCallany. The list of well-wishes and positive messages goes on and on.

Gorman, who was with Golden the night he was shot, said it’s “incredible” and “insane” how much has been given to the family to help Golden, both monetarily but also emotionally.

“It has been amazing to see how our neighborhood has been able to adapt to this, and it’s beautiful to see that this neighborhood then has such a reach out to the rest of the world,” Gorman said.

On Saturday, a portion of the funds raised at the annual Keepin’ On For Kevin softball tournament at Kennedy Park, which raises money for the Kevin Kennelly Scholarship, will be donated to the Golden family.

The village of Orland Park also asked on Twitter for members of the community to drop off a gift card donation and sign a card for Golden, whose birthday is Monday. Those who would like to participate can stop by the Orland Park police station between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. until Sunday.

“I’ve never seen an outpouring of love and support for an injured police officer like this, and I truly appreciate it,” Patrick Golden, Golden’s father, who served the Chicago Police Department for 25 years, said Thursday at St. Rita’s. “The South Side of Chicago is a great place, and it shows here today how much we respect and love each other.”

Golden was hit in the back with a single bullet in the early Saturday shooting. His younger brother, Johnny, was shot in the leg. The brothers, along with some cousins and other friends, had gone out after taking part in the eighth annual Papa Hops softball tournament, put on by the Tom Hopkins Foundation to raise money to help families affected by cancer.

It happened around 2:30 a.m. at Sean’s Rhino Bar & Grill, 10330 S. Western Ave., when an argument between three men and several others spilled out onto the street. After Golden stepped in to try to put an end to it, one of the men fired a gun multiple times toward a small group of people, hitting Golden in the middle of his back and severing his spinal cord, police said.

Three men allegedly involved in the shooting were ordered held without bail in bond court Tuesday, two of them facing charges including attempted murder and the third charged with aggravated discharge of a firearm.

Golden, the second of seven children with a vast extended family, joined the Police Department in February 2016 and served in the military for about four years prior to that, part of a long line of police officers and Army men in his family.

Casey Szaflarski, Golden’s fiancee, said they’ve been together a little over five years, and she’s known Golden since she was 15, having grown up close to him and meeting through mutual friends. The couple got engaged in February and plan to marry in October of next year.

She said Thursday that Golden is “taking it a day at a time and is going to be strong and get through this.”

“His mind is great, his body will follow, and we’re just very thankful for all the love, and we can’t be more grateful that he’s here.”

Szaflarski called out Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago police Superintendent David Brown in a Facebook appreciation post for several people Wednesday, saying the two had not acknowledged what happened to Golden and citing the need for change in the city.

She said in part, “His life has changed FOREVER and you both don’t even have the decency or respect to acknowledge that?! Wish I could say I’m not surprised at this point but I was hoping you had some sort of heart.”

In addition to thanking an army of people in their lives, Szaflarski said she “can’t believe (Golden) is even real sometimes.”

“The happiest, most genuine person I’ve ever met in my life,” she said in the post. “He has made me the best version of myself over the past five years. He lights up the room with that smile that never ends! His famous and most favorite quote to me is, ‘if it was easy everyone would do it, keep smiling because the pain does not last forever.’”

Golden’s father said Thursday that Golden is “getting stronger and stronger and looking better and better.”

“He has such great passion for life,” Patrick Golden said. “He’s not out of the woods yet, but he’s doing very well. I love the guy, and I’m so proud of him.”

The Rev. Tom McCarthy, who was principal of St. Rita of Cascia High School when Golden was a student there and has known the family almost 30 years, said Thursday during the prayer event that some will say making a miracle happen “is going to be impossible for Danny Golden.”

“If you’re saying that, you don’t know him,” McCarthy said. “It won’t be impossible. I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, but we’re going to do this. Danny, we’re going to do it with you.”