Natalie Corona was her father’s daughter.
Of course, her brief but joyous life was profoundly informed by her mother Lupe as well. But Corona followed her father Merced’s footsteps into law enforcement.
This fact adds an extra dimension of poignancy to Corona’s senseless killing on Thursday night while, as a 22-year-old rookie Davis Police officer, she was responding to a routine traffic accident when she was gunned down for reasons that defy logic, faith or understanding.
It still makes no sense.
Cars driven by everyday motorists collided on a residential street in a small college town where a bad year in crime was defined by 2017. That’s when a homicide was committed there. One.
So there was Corona, only a few weeks removed from completing her training and fully certified to respond alone to routine calls on routine evenings. She wanted this. This was not mundane to her. Like her father, she felt the call to help people in need, even when the need was simply bent car frames and frazzled nerves of human beings she didn’t know, but swore to protect.
“She told me, ‘Dad, this is what I want to do,’” said her father Merced Corona, a retired Colusa County Sheriff’s deputy.
José Merced Corona is 55, goes by Merced, and felt the call of service when he was the very young son of farm workers from the Mexican state of Michoacán. Merced built a life by acting on that call. The symbol of his generational success – from the harvest fields to the ranks of sworn peace officers – is the huge house, on the outskirts of Arbuckle, surrounded by harvest fields where Merced’s family settled. There, the Coronas would gather with his wife’s family, the Ulloas, in massive shows of love between two of the biggest and best-known Mexican families for miles around.
“Every weekend in the summer it seems like we got together, “ said David Corona, 45, Natalie’s cousin and a sergeant in the California Highway Patrol. “Our get-togethers were like huge reunions in other families. But we had them all the time.”
It was in the warm embrace of this community of two families bound by marriage that Natalie Corona saw her future. She saw the respect that her father inspired within their family. When Merced, the father, took Natalie, the daughter, on ride-alongs with him, the experience was like big league ball players who follow their dads, or children of doctors who go into medicine.
Law enforcement became the family business for the Coronas and the Ulloas.
“Between cousins and nephews we have between 10 to 12 law enforcement officers in the family” Merced said.
“Natalie was drawn to that from a very young age,” he said. “She would beam when she would go on ride-alongs with me. I knew she was going to pursue it. “
How did the father feel about the career choice of his eldest of four daughters?
“I was OK with it,” he said. “To me it’s an honor thing. It’s an honorable profession. I even tried to tell her that she could do something else. She was smart. She could do anything she wanted but to her, law enforcement was an absolute yes.”
You can sense the pride of these families when standing in the family’s courtyard. On Friday, rows of cars lined the gravel pathway to the front door. There were so many cars that some parked on the edges of harvest fields. A light rain fell and family and friends stood by a lovely open fire, warming their hands and standing close together in their grief.
Somehow, some way, Merced Corona agreed to talk with The Bee. He felt compelled to do so for Natalie. He wanted people to know who she was and what she stood for. As he spoke, his face shrouded in quiet grief, Merced opened his heart and opened a window into his family’s remarkable success story. It will endure despite the unspeakable act of gunman who chose to snuff out a life that was ready to soar.
“I kept telling her that she could work around here, with the Colusa County sheriffs, but she said, no. She said, ‘I love Davis. I love the community. I love the people.’‘’
Merced Corona knew the dangers of his chosen profession. He worked narcotics for years in Colusa County. He saw and combated the worst of the worst and retired six years ago with his health and desire to serve still intact. Last November, he became the first Latino elected to the Colusa County Board of Supervisors.
He was just sworn into office on Monday. He just attended his first board meeting on Tuesday. He just pinned Natalie’s badge on her after graduation from the police academy mere months ago.
Her ascension to ranks of sworn peace officers was the embodiment of the classic American story that often begins with immigrants traveling to the U.S. with nothing. Merced Corona was only 5 when he arrived in Colusa a half century ago. His father had a relative working the farms who got him a job. They worked like dogs, saved their money. The elders in the Corona family moved up to jobs with Southern Pacific Railroad..
Young Merced worked the fields. But for him, law enforcement was the next rung up the ladder. He achieved it. He excelled. He married into another family of achievers and a community was built with branches spreading across the region and state.
They know everybody there and everybody knows them, respects them, mourns for them.
This is America. This is what makes this country great. This is what remains unbroken no matter the political winds or the senseless acts of cruelty and violence.
Merced Corona and his family are devastated and so is everyone they know – and untold numbers of people they don’t know. But they are sustained by their faith and by the bonds of family and duty that elevated a poor immigrant family into a strong American one.
A friend of theirs told me that Natalie was a 4.0 student at Woodland Community College.
David, the CHP officer, said: “I want people to know that Natalie had a passion for helping people. She was an ambassador for law enforcement, a great daughter, an awesome big sister and a loyal friend.”
Her image was immortalized in a Facebook photo she took at the dawn of her chosen career – a photo of a vivacious young woman in a blue dress paying homage to the people in her profession by carrying an American flag with a blue line through it to memorialize those officers who gave their lives to help others.
It shows who she was raised to be: A product of a community who dedicated her life to continue building communities through her work.
The photograph showed the luminous life in front of her, what she aspired to do and be, until she became the fallen, too, leaving a trail of tears stretching to the horizon.