SENSE OF DUTY SHAPED NATALIE CORONA’S LIFE

The Sacramento Bee - - Front Page - BY MOLLY SUL­LI­VAN AND RYAN SABALOW msul­li­[email protected]

Natalie Corona wanted to be a cop for as long as any­one she knew can re­mem­ber. Her fam­ily – and a sense of duty – drove her to put on the uni­form.

She was a high school home­com­ing queen and the daugh­ter of a cop. When the fund­ing for her po­si­tion with the Davis Po­lice Depart­ment ran out, Corona took jobs at a fruit stand and as a wait­ress so she could af­ford to vol­un­teer with the depart­ment.

“She had a ring, black with blue cen­ter, like the blue line,” Tessa Corona, Natalie’s cousin-

in-law, said Fri­day. “She wore it on her ring finger be­cause ‘I’m mar­ried to the job’ she would say.”

Corona, 22, was slain af­ter re­spond­ing to a traf­fic ac­ci­dent in down­town Davis Thurs­day night. A gun­man opened fire on her and then fled, lead­ing to a man­hunt that lasted into Fri­day morn­ing, when po­lice found the sus­pect dead in­side a home of an ap­par­ent self­in­flicted gun­shot wound, po­lice said.

Corona was rushed to UC Davis Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Sacra­mento where she was pro­nounced dead.

Lyssa Gomez, Natalie’s cousin by mar­riage, re­cently re­tired from the Davis Po­lice Depart­ment. She had the heart­break­ing task of call­ing Corona’s fam­ily late Thurs­day to tell them about the shoot­ing.

“I called her dad first and said, ‘Did you hear what hap­pened?’ ” Gomez said, her voice choked with emo­tion. “He said he knew some­thing had hap­pened in Davis and I said, ‘There was a shoot­ing and she was shot.’ And he went silent.”

Corona was de­scribed by her fam­ily as “very hard-work­ing,” “hum­ble” and “driven,” in in­ter­views with The Sacra­mento Bee Fri­day. She “cared about her fam­ily a lot,” Tessa Corona said, and never lost sight of her goal of be­com­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer.

Law en­force­ment runs in Corona’s fam­ily. Her fa­ther, Merced, is a re­tired Co­lusa County Sher­iff’s deputy who served on the force for 26 years. Corona wanted to be just like him.

“She al­ways wanted to fol­low in her dad’s foot­steps,” Gomez said. “She looked up to him.”

Corona started vol­un­teer­ing as a com­mu­nity ser­vice of­fi­cer with the Davis Po­lice Depart­ment straight out of high school and con­tin­ued to work at the depart­ment even af­ter fund­ing for her po­si­tion ran out, Tessa Corona said. She worked full-time shifts at a lo­cal fruit stand and had an­other job as a wait­ress at Co­lusa Casino while she was vol­un­teer­ing for the po­lice depart­ment and go­ing to school, she said. She also re­cently moved back in with her fam­ily to save money and planned to fin­ish her de­gree at Cal­i­for­nia State Univer­sity, Sacra­mento.

“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.”

“She was an amaz­ing per­son, a very hum­ble per­son,” said Rosa Corona, Natalie’s aunt.

Corona grew up in a tight-knit fam­ily in the small Co­lusa County town of Ar­buckle, sur­rounded by rice fields and al­mond or­chards along In­ter­state 5 about 50 miles north of Sacra­mento in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. On Sun­days, if she wasn’t work­ing, Corona went to Catholic Mass with her fam­ily in the church where she was bap­tized. She went to the shoot­ing range with her fa­ther on Sun­days as well, and prac­ticed skeet, trap shoot­ing and tar­get prac­tice with her pis­tol.

She usu­ally worked grave­yard shifts at the po­lice depart­ment and when she fin­ished her shift, she’d stay up and go to her grand­mother’s house, where there were al­ways plenty of fresh made tor­tillas in the morn­ing, Gomez said. Corona loved home-cook­ing, she added.

She never turned down an in­vi­ta­tion to a fam­ily gath­er­ing, be­cause “be­ing from a small town, fam­ily meant ev­ery­thing to her,” Tessa Corona said.

She was crowned home­com­ing queen at Pierce High School. She played bas­ket­ball and vol­ley­ball. Her dad was a box­ing coach, and Corona and her sis­ter, Jackie, be­came avid box­ers.

She loved to take her three younger sis­ters to the lat­est movies, but be­cause she was pro­tec­tive, she’d only take them to PG and G-rated films, Tessa Corona said.

She was a fiend for pasta, and in­sisted on go­ing to Olive Gar­den when she went out with friends.

“Her fa­vorite color was blue, of course, any­thing that had to do with be­ing a cop,” Tessa Corona said. “When we’d go out and she wanted to get dressed, ev­ery­thing had to be blue.”

In a Face­book photo that has been widely cir­cu­lated since the news of her death broke Thurs­day night, Natalie stands smil­ing in a blue, floor-length dress hold­ing a “blue line” Amer­i­can flag, sym­bol­iz­ing law en­force­ment sol­i­dar­ity. In the post, Corona wrote she wanted the photo to “serve as my grat­i­tude for all those law en­force­ment men and women who have served, who are cur­rently serv­ing, and those who have died in the line of duty pro­tect­ing our lib­er­ties in this great coun­try.”

While at­tend­ing the Sacra­mento Po­lice Acad­emy in early 2018, Corona strug­gled with pain caused by shin splints. She suf­fered a small frac­ture in her shin af­ter jump­ing over a wall dur­ing train­ing. Though she was in pain, she kept train­ing and grad­u­ated in July. Her par­ents pinned the badge on her uni­form at her grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony.

“My hus­band said to her at Christ­mas, ‘Maybe you should get an­other job, that one is dan­ger­ous,’ ” said Rosa Corona. “But Natalie said, ‘I love my job, I am so happy.’”

“You can see the light in her eyes when she talked about be­ing a cop,” Gomez said. “She wanted to help peo­ple. She loved peo­ple. Any­thing she did, she would make sure peo­ple had ev­ery re­source avail­able. It wasn’t about driv­ing a fast car or mak­ing an ar­rest . . . I saw the way she worked and I would tell her she had a heart I’ve never seen in a cop be­fore. I knew she was go­ing places.”

In Ar­buckle on Fri­day, the flag in the town cen­ter was at half staff. So was one in front of the post of­fice, which sits a few yards from a con­ve­nience store called “Corona’s.”

Many peo­ple in this town of 2,300 peo­ple had some con­nec­tion to the fallen of­fi­cer. Walk­ing out of the post of­fice, Re­becca Tay­lor, 55, said she lives next door to Corona’s grand­par­ents.

“We’ve all had our tears this morn­ing and last night,” she said, af­ter tap­ping her heart with her finger and point­ing to the low­ered flag. “It hasn’t stopped.”

Across the street, Susie Mc­Cul­lough re­counted from the win­dow of her food truck “Sauced” that Corona was just at her home hav­ing Christ­mas Eve din­ner with Mc­Cul­lough’s nieces, Morgan and Mariah Diaz. The Di­azes were at the hos­pi­tal when Corona died, Mc­Cul­lough said.

“It’s dev­as­tat­ing,” she said. “This whole town is dev­as­tated . ... I don’t think any­body slept last night.”

Mc­Cul­lough said she ex­pects Ar­buckle to be empty Sat­ur­day as res­i­dents head to a can­dle­light vigil in Davis hon­or­ing Corona.

“Ev­ery­body will be there,” she said. “You’re deal­ing with a very small town, a very small, close fam­ily town where ev­ery­body sticks to­gether or is re­lated to each other.”

Corona is sur­vived by her par­ents, Merced and Lupe, and her sis­ters, Jackie, Cathy and Cindy.

‘‘ YOU CAN SEE THE LIGHT IN HER EYES WHEN SHE TALKED ABOUT BE­ING A COP. SHE WANTED TO HELP PEO­PLE. SHE LOVED PEO­PLE. Lyssa Gomez, Natalie’s cousin

LAUS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

Natalie Corona, above, had al­ways planned on fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of her fa­ther, Merced, who served 26 years in law en­force­ment.

JOSE LUIS VIL­LE­GAS jvil­le­[email protected]

Davis res­i­dent Erin Vogt and chil­dren Jack­son, 10, Nolan, 7, and Avery, 2 leave cards and flow­ers Fri­day at a me­mo­rial out­side the Davis Po­lice Depart­ment.

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