Witness: Slain Calif. officer shot by bystander
A 22-year-old police officer shot to death Thursday night apparently was ambushed by a gunman as she was sorting out the after-effects of a minor, three-car collision in this quiet Northern California college town.
Natalie Corona, who received her badge with the Davis Police Department in August and was certified just before Christmas to go on patrol without a partner, died after being shot by an assailant who walked up to her and opened fire just before 7 p.m., then began walking along a downtown street randomly firing at pedestrians, according to an eyewitness.
The gunman was later found dead inside a home where he apparently shot himself after officers surrounded the house not far from the University of California, Davis, campus, police said.
By mid-afternoon Friday, authorities in the town 15 miles west of Sacramento said they had identified the gunman but were not ready to disclose his name.
Christian Pascual, 25, a UC Davis graduate, witnessed the shooting and said the incident began as he was driving and another vehicle hit his car, then drove it into a third car.
The motorists got out of their vehicles to exchange information and Corona arrived minutes later and began talking to the drivers.
“I gave her my license and she was just about to give it to me,” Pascual said. “That’s when I heard the shots.”
He said the shots came from directly behind him, with the gunman firing over his right shoulder so close to his ear that he was suffering from hearing loss Friday morning.
“The person was behind me and all of a sudden I heard gunshots,” he said.
Pascual said he instinctively ducked down.
“When I looked up and I saw the officer on the ground he was already walking due west toward C Street, like just shooting at what looked like random people to me,” Pascual said, adding that he ran down the street and hid in bushes for safety.
Another witness told police that she had been walking about 15 feet from the shooter when she saw him open fire.
Corona was the first Davis police officer to die in the line of duty since 1959, and family members and friends described her as wanting to devote her life to police work.
“She had a ring, black with blue center, like the blue line,” said Tessa Corona, Natalie’s cousinin-law. “She wore it on her ring finger because ‘I’m married to the job’ she would say.”
Her father, Merced Corona, spent 26 years as a sheriff’s deputy in nearby Colusa County and pinned the badge on her daughter’s uniform when she was sworn in as an officer in August.
“She always wanted to follow in her dad’s footsteps,” said Lyssa Gomez, a retired police officer who is Natalie Corona’s cousin. “She looked up to him.”
Corona started volunteering as a Davis community service officer after graduating in 2014 in Arbuckle, a rural farm town 40 miles northwest of Davis where much of her family still lives. Corona’s father is well known from his years as a deputy and his election in June as a county supervisor.
Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel described his police force as “absolutely devastated” by her slaying, and residents of Arbuckle and nearby communities said they were in shock at the news.
Flags in the town and elsewhere in California were flying at half-staff on orders from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, and many of the 3,000 residents of Arbuckle were expected to trek to Davis on Saturday for a candlelight vigil in Corona’s honor.
“Everybody will be there,” said Susie McCullough, owner of the Sauced food truck in Arbuckle. “You’re dealing with a very small town, a very small, close family town where everybody sticks together or is related to each other.”
Natalie Corona, who received her badge with the Davis Police Department in August, was shot and killed at a car crash scene when a bystander suddenly opened fire at close range.