DAVIS – Thousands gathered on a gray and somber Friday in Davis to mourn and celebrate a young woman described as a brief but shining light.
Bagpipes played inside a packed UC Davis ARC Pavilion and police officers from around the country stood in salute as an honor guard placed the flag-drapped casket of slain 22-year-old officer Natalie Corona front and center.
Singer Billy Ray Cyrus sang, and called Corona an angel, “a light in this world that won’t be forgotten.” Speakers described a radiant woman, mature and focused beyond her years.
Corona’s sergeant, Eric Labbe, said the 6-foot-tall officer and former high school homecoming queen was an “awesome” person with an infectious personality who left an “everlasting impression on every person in this department.”
He and others wore black bands over their badges with Corona’s badge number – 224 – emblazoned in white.
“To know her was to know greatness,” Labbe said. She’s been called a rookie cop in the days since her death, he said, but that’s a misrepresentation. She was ready from day one. “It was immediately apparent to see this line of work was in her blood.”
Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel said he knew exactly where Corona was headed in life.
“I had already placed a bet that one day she would be the police chief,” he said. “I knew what it takes and she had it.”
Corona herself spoke in a video that was recorded last year when she was graduating from the Sacramento police academy. Looking straight at the camera, her voice firm and energetic, she said, “I’m ready to hit the streets. It’s very exciting. I’m chasing a career. I’m taking after my father.”
Success in police work or any work, she said, comes from inside.
“It truly has to be in your heart,” she said. “You will overcome any other challenges that are thrown at you.”
Corona’s police academy class was in attendance at her funeral and called out in affirmation during the service as Labbe called Corona “resilient,” “triumphant,” “brave” and “spirited.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom was also in attendance.
Corona, a first-year officer, was shot the evening of Jan. 10 while on duty on a downtown Davis street by a man who apparently did not know her, but who police said appears to have had a vendetta against local law enforcement. The young officer was investigating a car crash at the time.
Police say Kevin Douglas Limbaugh, 48, a nearby resident with a troubled history, approached without saying a word and shot Corona several times, then sprayed bullets at nearby people, houses and vehicles before fleeing. One bullet lodged in a textbook inside a backpack worn by a young woman and another hit the boot heel of a firefighter fleeing the gunfire.
Police found Limbaugh dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot to the head inside his nearby home, leaving a note saying police were bombarding him with ultra-sonic waves. Limbaugh was convicted of a misdemeanor in September after he punched a co-worker at Cache Creek Casino, and was ordered to surrender a rifle. It is unclear how he obtained the guns he used in his rampage.
Corona, who had been on the force since mid-2018, grew up going on ride-alongs with her father, Merced Corona, a former Colusa County sheriff’s deputy. Jackie Corona, a younger sister struggling with tears, spoke during the 90-minute memorial service of how sometimes Corona would use her sisters as test subjects for police training.
“Natalie’s love for the blue line was far from normal,” she said. “And being a police a officer was more than just a career, it was a passion.”
News of Corona’s shooting – and in particular one photo – spread dramatically across the country through social media. That photo, taken several years ago, shows Corona in the middle of a country road wearing a floor-length dress in her favorite color, blue. She is smiling with what one coworker called her “full-teeth smile,” and displaying an American flag done up in blue and black, representing support for law enforcement.
Corona was known to wear a black ring with a blue line running through the center on her ring finger because she was “married to the job,” her cousin, Tessa Corona, told The Bee.
Chief Pytel attempted to offer a catharsis to a region in mourning, saying no one should feel guilty. The reason for her death is something, he said, no one may ever know.
“The simple reality, we know who committed this atrocity but we may never know why,” he said. “So far, we have nothing to explain it. This person simply made a choice. Natalie did everything right. She knew what she was doing. The reality is, we train for what is predictable. There is only one person to blame, and that is the person who decided to fire the gun.”
Speaking seemingly in part to his own department’s officers, he said, “Find positive ways to move forward, together, with renewed energy brought to us by this shining star. As you sort through emotions, don’t let guilt be one of them.”
He then turned his attention to Corona’s family, sitting in the front row of the Pavilion center.
“Mr. and Mrs. Corona, you have shown incredible strength,” Pytel said. “I honestly don’t know how you have done that. You raised an incredible daughter. Natalie possessed all the positive attributes ... she had to have gotten that from you.
“You delivered to us the perfect cop. I am so sorry that we didn’t get her back home to you.”
After speaking, Pytel stepped off the stage, walked over to Corona’s parents and handed them a polished box holding their daughter’s badge. He then hugged them. The young officer has been awarded a posthumous Purple Heart, he said, as well as several other honors, including one named after Douglas Cantrell, the last Davis police officer killed in the line of duty, in 1959.
Merced Corona talked about an effervescent daughter, and a person that he is proud to call what she always wanted him to: “a brother cop.” His wife, Lupe, stood beside him with her head bowed.
“God himself placed Natalie on duty on that day, on that shift, at that hour, standing on that exact spot,” he said. “And he himself has called her into his presence.”
He told of his daughter’s exuberance when she’d come home late from work at what she called the perfect job. He’d say to his wife, “Here comes Nat, turn off the lights and make like we are sleeping,” but she would flip the lights on and share. “I just want to tell you what happened today, real quick.”
It was never quick, he said.
Following the service, a funeral procession was scheduled to take Corona to her hometown of Arbuckle, 40 miles north of Davis in Colusa County. Streets and highways along the procession route were to be briefly closed.
Thousands of officers poured out of the Pavillion and lined up along the road, forming what they called a “gauntlet.” As the white hearse carrying Corona slowly passed, they silently saluted her.