Rookie of­fi­cer’s slay­ing stuns Davis

Woman on job just a few months gunned down in ran­dom at­tack

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - By Sarah Ra­vani

DAVIS — Natalie Corona was am­bushed by a gun­man who rode up on a bi­cy­cle, opened fire as the rookie Davis po­lice of­fi­cer stood on the street in­ves­ti­gat­ing a car crash — and then un­loaded his weapon on her after she col­lapsed, of­fi­cials said Fri­day.

The bru­tal at­tack on Thurs­day night sent shock waves through the col­lege town, leav­ing many griev­ing res­i­dents to won­der what could have pro­voked the vi­o­lence that re­sulted in the city’s first on-duty of­fi­cer death in nearly 60 years.

After shoot­ing Corona, the gun­man reloaded his semi­au­to­matic pis­tol and be­gan shoot­ing in­dis­crim­i­nately around Fifth and D streets in down­town Davis. Bul­lets hit a fire truck that had ar­rived on the scene, a pass­ing bus and a woman’s back­pack, Po­lice Chief Dar­ren Py­tel said at a news con­fer­ence Fri­day night.

Then, the gun­man shot at the fire­fighter who emerged from the fire truck — strik­ing the emer­gency re­spon­der’s boot but not in­jur­ing him. The sus­pect dropped his back­pack at the scene then fled — back to his home at Fifth and E streets.

There, Py­tel said, he acted as if noth-

ing had hap­pened, even join­ing his room­mate out­side to watch po­lice swarm the area as they hunted for the shooter. Ul­ti­mately, the back­pack led po­lice to the blue and white house, where the sus­pect bar­ri­caded him­self.

With po­lice sur­round­ing the home, the sus­pect, wear­ing a bul­let­proof vest, emerged, yelled some­thing at the of­fi­cers and then took refuge in the house again. He emerged a second time — this time with a gun — be­fore re­treat­ing in­doors. No shots were fired, Py­tel said.

Ul­ti­mately, of­fi­cers sent in a ro­bot to find the sus­pect dead after hear­ing a gun­shot in­side the home.

The in­ci­dent be­gan at 6:45 p.m. Thurs­day as Corona re­sponded to a three-car crash. She was there for maybe two min­utes when the gun­man rode up on a bi­cy­cle and shot her in the neck, Py­tel said.

“This clearly looks to us like an am­bush,” Py­tel said. “Based on how dark it was, we are spec­u­lat­ing that she never even saw him.”

Wit­nesses told de­tec­tives that Corona was hand­ing over a mo­torist’s driver’s li­cense when the gun­man opened fire. Her uni­form was out­fit­ted with a body cam­era, but Py­tel said he did not know whether Corona had ac­ti­vated it. Her pa­trol car’s cam­era, how­ever, cap­tured a “sig­nif­i­cant amount of video” that had not yet been re­viewed.

Py­tel said of­fi­cials weren’t ready to re­lease the sus­pect’s name and had no clues as to why he at­tacked Corona.

Corona grad­u­ated from the po­lice academy six months ago and fin­ished field train­ing two weeks ago, be­ing cleared to work solo as a pa­trol of­fi­cer.

“She died with honor and re­spect do­ing what she wanted to do,” said Robert Corona, the of­fi­cer’s 43-year-old cousin. “Heaven only knows why so quickly, but I know she’s in a spe­cial place in heaven right now.”

Davis res­i­dents flocked to the 60-per­son Po­lice De­part­ment’s head­quar­ters Fri­day to leave bou­quets of white roses, tulips and car­na­tions. A pink teddy bear and boxes of bagels and pas­tries were also left out­side the de­part­ment’s doors.

“She was the purest soul I have ever known,” said Amy Juarez, a spokes­woman for the Davis Po­lice De­part­ment. “She was a baby. We were a de­part­ment full of proud moms and dads.”

Corona knew from a young age she wanted to be a po­lice of­fi­cer. She wanted to fol­low in the foot­steps of her father, Merced Corona, a 26-year vet­eran of the Co­lusa County Sher­iff ’s De­part­ment. When she grad­u­ated from the po­lice academy in July, he was there to pin the badge on her vest.

“She was well-known here in the de­part­ment,” said Lt. Mark Con­tr­eras, of the Sher­iff ’s De­part­ment. “It’s tough. It’s go­ing to take a while for ev­ery­one to get over this one.”

The rookie of­fi­cer started vol­un­teer­ing at the Davis Po­lice De­part­ment when she was 18. Her col­leagues of­ten teased her that she needed to get a date, oth­er­wise she’d end up mar­ried to the job, Juarez said.

Gov. Gavin New­som re­leased a state­ment Fri­day morn­ing say­ing he and his wife were “ter­ri­bly sad­dened” by Corona’s death.

“We join all Cal­i­for­ni­ans in mourn­ing the loss of this coura­geous of­fi­cer and ex­tend our deep­est con­do­lences to Of­fi­cer Corona’s fam­ily, friends and co-work­ers,” New­som said.

Peo­ple left bou­quets of flow­ers around the crime scene Fri­day. Some tied blue rib­bons around nearby tree trunks, and a “thin blue line” flag was placed not far from where Corona was shot. A sign read­ing “Honor Natalie Corona End of Watch 1/10/2019” sur­rounded by Amer­i­can flags was placed at the en­trance to down­town at Richards Boule­vard and Olive Drive.

Davis, a col­lege town west of Sacra­mento, has a pop­u­la­tion of nearly 65,000 that bal­loons when UC Davis is in ses­sion. The quaint city is known for its street fes­ti­vals, bike lanes and a Cen­tral Park that holds farm­ers’ mar­kets twice a week.

Mayor Brett Lee said in a state­ment that the “en­tire City Council is grief-stricken and heart­bro­ken at this sense­less loss of life.”

Ch­eryl Beck, a 72-year-old Davis res­i­dent, choked back tears and her body shook as she stood near the Po­lice De­part­ment me­mo­rial.

“I think I met Of­fi­cer Corona at the park,” she said. “Was she an of­fi­cer that cleaned up graf­fiti be­fore?”

“Yes, she was,” Juarez said, plac­ing a hand on Beck’s shoul­der.

The two women rem­i­nisced about Corona’s smile and car­ing at­ti­tude in re­spond­ing to in­ci­dents across the city.

“She never ever was with­out a smile, and she never had a bad word — no mat­ter how hor­ri­ble the sit­u­a­tion or the per­son she was deal­ing with,” Juarez said, her eyes fill­ing with tears.

Robert Corona re­called a fam­ily party from sev­eral years ago when his cousin dressed up as a cop — long be­fore she ac­tu­ally be­came one — and per­formed with her fam­ily the pop­u­lar song “Gang­nam Style” by South Korean mu­si­cian Psy, in a lip-sync bat­tle.

“She was so full of life,” he said. “She lit up the room.”

Corona was pro­nounced dead at UC Davis Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Sacra­mento where she had been rushed after the shoot­ing. Be­sides her father, she is sur­vived by mother, Lupe Corona, and sis­ter Jackie Corona.

The last fa­tal shoot­ing of a Davis po­lice of­fi­cer in the line of duty was nearly 60 years ago, when 23-year-old Of­fi­cer Dou­glas Cantrill was killed Sept. 7, 1959. He was gunned down out­side the Po­lice De­part­ment after a sus­pect grabbed his firearm.

Word of Corona’s death quickly rip­pled through the de­part­ment and neigh­bor­ing law en­force­ment agen­cies. Juarez said she was im­me­di­ately alerted of the shoot­ing with a mes­sage Thurs­day night that read “shots fired” and “of­fi­cer down,” but she had no idea it was Corona.

“I wasn’t quite pre­pared for who,” Juarez said. “None of us would have ex­pected this. Never in a mil­lion years would you ex­pect this to hap­pen to your de­part­ment.”

Corona grad­u­ated from the po­lice academy in July. She started as a com­mu­nity ser­vices of­fi­cer in Davis in 2016.

“She had a per­son­al­ity that was just en­er­giz­ing,” Py­tel said. “She was the most friendly, out­go­ing, and just wanted to be ev­ery­body’s friend — and she was.”

She grew up in Ar­buckle (Co­lusa County) and at­tended schools in the Pierce Joint Uni­fied School Dis­trict from kinder­garten through grad­u­a­tion.

“She was an amaz­ing young woman who was al­ways joy­ful and smil­ing,” said Carol Geyer, the dis­trict su­per­in­ten­dent, in an email to The Chron­i­cle. “She put forth 100 per­cent ef­fort in all that she did.”

Davis po­lice Lt. Paul Doroshov said the de­part­ment is “not re­ally used to” ex­pe­ri­enc­ing tragedies like deaths in the line of duty. “Last night was pretty tax­ing and chaotic for all the of­fi­cers here.”

“We are a small agency. It’s like a fam­ily,” Doroshov said. San Francisco Chron­i­cle staff writer Lau­ren Her­nan­dez con­trib­uted to this re­port

Wil­liams (Co­lusa County) Pi­o­neer Re­view 2018

Natalie Corona smiles as her father, Merced Corona, pins a badge on her uni­form at a cer­e­mony last sum­mer.

Steve Ger­man / Spe­cial to The Chron­i­cle

Davis res­i­dent Janet Moreno leaves flow­ers at a me­mo­rial for Of­fi­cer Natalie Corona, who was shot dead while re­spond­ing to a traf­fic col­li­sion Thurs­day night.

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