Slaying of Davis officer leaves region stunned
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 midafternoon 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.
“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 he ran down the street and hid in bushes for safety.
Another witness told police she had been walking about 15 feet from the shooter when she saw him open fire.
The woman, who was upset and did not want to be named, arrived at Davis police headquarters Friday afternoon accompanied by two friends to report that she had found a bullet inside the backpack she was wearing Thursday night.
Davis police turned the shooting investigation over to the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, which by Friday morning had 14 homicide detectives and crime scene investigators at the scene of Corona’s slaying and the home where the gunman apparently shot himself.
Sheriff’s Sgt. Shaun Hampton said Sacramento was called in to help because the department is much larger than the 61-member Davis force and because of its experience with officer-involved shootings.
“Unfortunately, we’re no strangers to officers getting killed in the line of duty,” Hampton said, referring to the fact that three Sacramento deputies have been shot to death on duty since 2014.
FIRST SINCE 1959
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 cousin-in-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 lives. Corona’s father is well known from his years as a deputy and his election in June as a county supervisor.
Corona continued to work for the Davis police even after funding for her position ran out, Tessa Corona said, juggling full-time shifts at a local fruit stand and another job as a waitress at Colusa Casino while she was volunteering and going to school.
She had recently moved back in with her family to save money and planned to finish her degree at Sacramento State.
“She was so tired and exhausted, but she was dedicated,” Tessa Corona said. “There’s no way she was going to give up volunteering at Davis PD. I even told her she was crazy. There was nothing else she wanted to do.”
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.
“We’ve all had our tears this morning and last night,” said Arbuckle resident Rebecca Taylor, 55. “It hasn’t stopped.”
Flags in the town and elsewhere in California were flying at half-staff on orders of 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.”
McCullough said Corona was at a gathering at her home on Christmas Eve when discussions of the dangers of police work came up.
“I said, ‘Natalie aren’t you afraid to be out there by yourself?’ ” McCullough said. “She said, ‘No, there’s four beats in Davis. I always have an officer behind me.’
“She goes, ‘No, I’m not afraid.’ Then, here a week later, she’s gunned down. It’s senseless. She’s responding to a three-car accident and she gets taken down for no reason. It’s just devastating. Completely devastating.”
Mourners place flowers at a memorial outside the Davis Police Department in honor of slain Officer Natalie Corona on Friday.
Merced Corona pins a Davis police badge on the uniform of daughter Natalie Corona at a swearing-in ceremony in Davis on Aug. 2.