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 self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.
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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.