Natalie Corona may have been a rookie when she was killed, but she was remembered as an example of a “perfect cop” at her memorial Friday.
“To know her was to know greatness,” said Davis Police Sgt. Eric Labbe, who was Corona’s supervisor. “We’re all better people for having been in her company.”
Thousands packed the ARC Pavilion at UC Davis to pay tribute to Corona, who was shot and killed January 10 while responding to a three-car accident in downtown Davis. She was 22, and died just weeks after starting on solo patrol with the Davis Police Department.
Governor Gavin Newsom was among the mourners at the 90-minute service.
Bagpipes and drums played as Natalie Corona’s flag-draped casket was brought into the 8,000-seat arena. Many of the attendees, including officers from LAPD, Chicago PD, NYPD and Boston PD – saluted as the procession streamed in. Two officers stood as honor guards on either side of the coffin during the funeral.
Country music star Billy Ray Cyrus set the tone of the service by singing “Some Gave All” – a song he composed about a Vietnam veteran in 1989. He said he often sings the son at military funerals, but more and more recently for officers in blue.
“This is Natalie’s song,” he said. “This is for one special young lady who represented the face of change. She’s a light in this world who won’t be forgotten.”
Colleagues and family members spoke about Natalie Corona’s vivacious personality and her lifelong dream of becoming a police officer.
“Natalie’s personality and her kind and loving demeanor was highly infectious,” said Labbe. “She had a ripple effect that touched and forever changed whoever she came in contact with.”
He had issues with people calling Corona a rookie, as she was mature beyond her years.
“No one ever questioned her competence,” he said. “She was not only well trained, and well versed as a police officer, it was immediately apparently that this line of work was in her blood.”
Labbe noted that Corona had many “unparalleled” traits, which he hoped that others would emulate.
He asked members of Natalie Corona’s police academy class to “speak up” as he called out some of the characteristics fellow officers used to describe her: “hardworking and dedicated,” “enthusiastic, energetic,” “reliable, relentless,” and “heroic.” A cheer erupted from the group each time after the traits were called out.
“No one can ever replace Natalie – this is simply an impossibility,” Labbe said. “Moving forward, we can try our best to live as vigorously and with as much regard for others as Natalie lived.”
Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel noted that Corona had started working with the Davis Police Department on January 4, 2016 as a part-time community service officer.
She was attending Woodland Community College at the time, but she would later graduate as a 4.0 student with three associate degrees – two in administration of justice and one in humanities.
While working as a part-time CSO, she struck Pytel as extremely hard-working, as she was willing to do anything that was asked of her, whether it was data entry, crime analysis, code enforcement, report writing, or records. When the money ran out for her part-time position, Natalie Corona volunteered to work full time.
“When Officer Corona was at work, she worked,” he said. “She would never say ‘no’ nor she ever let on she was stretched a little too thin.”
Her attitude prompted many in the department to press Pytel to send her to the Sacramento Police Academy, which she attended from January to June of 2018.
In a video shown toward the end of the service Friday, Natalie Corona shared her thoughts about her chosen career after graduating from the academy.
“I truly feel it has to be in your heart, it has to be something you want to do,” she said. “If you’re determined, and you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get to that point, you will do it. You will overcome any of the challenges thrown at you.”
Natalie Corona was officially hired by the Davis Police Department on July 2, 2018, but was sworn in on April 2, 2018, when her father pinned on her badge. She completed her training in December, 2018 and had just started on solo patrol several weeks ago.
“It wasn’t long after Natalie started that we realized we hired someone special,” Pytel said of the 6-foot-tall recruit. “She immediately stood out, and not just because she was taller than nearly everybody, but because of how special she was.”
Corona was smart, motivated, enthusiastic and exuded energy, he said. While she liked the thrill of action in the job, she also had a strong desire to make a personal connection with people.
“She was a rare individual – the cop you wanted to show up when you called for help,” Pytel said.
He had high hopes for Corona’s career with Davis PD.
“I had already placed a bet that one day she would be the police chief,” he said. “I know what it takes, and she had it.”
At the memorial, Pytel tried to make sense of the events that led to Corona’s death.
“I need to prepare everybody for this simple reality here: we know who committed this atrocity but never know why,” he told the crowd. “We don’t know why yet, and so far, we have nothing to really explain it. It may very well could be the sole responsible person simply made a choice, a choice that ended the life of Officer Natalie Corona.”
On January 10, Corona was responding to a three-car accident in downtown Davis when she was ambushed from behind. Police said a gunman, later identified as 48-year-old Kevin Douglas Limbaugh, rode a bicycle to the scene.
Without a word, he shot Corona several times before firing at nearby homes, vehicles and pedestrians and fleeing the scene. One bullet hit a boot of a nearby firefighter, while another went through a backpack worn by a passerby and lodged itself in a text book.
Limbaugh was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound at his home nearby. He left a note accusing Davis police of making his life unbearable by directing ultra-sonic waves at his home. Two semi-automatic handguns were also recovered.
Court records showed that Limbaugh had been convicted of a misdemeanor last September for attacking a co-worker at Cache Creek Casino, and was ordered to surrender an AR-15 rifle in November. It was not known when and where he obtained the two weapons he used during the rampage.
Friday, Pytel tried to reassure his department that there was nothing that any officer could have done to avert the tragedy, as Corona was well trained by her academy instructors and field training officers.
“A cop can only be so vigilant and still accomplish the task at hand,” he said. “There’s only one person to blame, and that’s the person who decided to fire the gun. Don’t hold yourself responsible for something you couldn’t prevent.”
Pytel urged his officers to use Natalie Corona as an exemplar of Davis law enforcement, and pointed to a now-widely circulated photo of her as inspiration. The photo, showing Natalie wearing a blue dress and waving a Thin Blue Line flag, was prominently displayed on stage at the memorial service.
“Natalie knew full well the job came with risks and that protecting liberty may result in death, even her own. Yet, she wrapped herself in it, she embraced it, and put on the badge,” he said. “Let’s honor her by continuing to do the same. Davis PD, serve with pride.”
Pytel credited Corona’s parents, Merced and Lupe, for raising an incredible daughter.
“Natalie possessed all the positive attributes you could look for in a person,” he told them. “She had to have gotten that from you.”
He also apologized to her family for not keeping her safe.
“You delivered to us the perfect cop,” he said. “Our commitment to you was to get her home. Know that we tried, we all tried our very best. I’m so sorry that we didn’t get her back home to you.”
Pytel said that in addition to retiring Corona’s badge number (224) and her call sign (X-ray 33), the department would place her name in a prominent place as a memorial to her service.
He also announced that she was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously, as well as the Medal of Distinction. She also received the Cantrill Citation, named after Douglas Cantrill, the last Davis police officer to die in the line of duty in 1959.
Pytle then got off the stage, went to meet Corona’s parents on the arena floor, and hugged them. He then presented three cases – one red, two black – to her father, Merced, who nodded and wiped away tears when Pytel showed him what was inside.
Pytel and two other officers then saluted Natalie Corona’s coffin before returning to their seats. Merced and Lupe Corona also went up to their daughter’s casket to touch it before sitting down.
Mourners were then treated to a video montage of images of Natalie Corona, which was shown on two large screens.
Corona’s three younger sisters, Jackie, Cathy and Cindy then went up on stage, but only Jackie spoke.
She recalled that the family knew early on that Natalie would become a police officer.
“Growing up, Nat ran around the house with police gear on, and would watch the TV show, ‘Cops’ all day, even when it was a rerun,” said Jackie Corona. “She was constantly talking about the police field, and somehow, she would talk us into becoming her test subjects.”
While Natalie Corona strived to excel at everything she did, there was one area where she wasn’t perfect.
“Nat loved to dance, but the only downside was, since she was so tall and lanky, her body never quite had the rhythm but that never stopped her,” her sister said. “She would play some Shakira – “Hips Don’t Lie” – or any hip-hop song and do her own thing. We knew she wasn’t the best dancer, but we went along with it anyway.”
Despite that, Jackie Corona acknowledged that her sister’s interest in police work was far from normal.
“She truly loved every officer, even if she didn’t know them, and being a police officer was more than a career, it was a passion,” she said.
Merced Corona was accompanied by his wife, Lupe, when he stepped up to the podium to speak. Lupe stood beside him, bowing her head slightly at times.
He said his daughter Natalie had always wanted to be a Davis police officer, and rebuffed attempts to recruit her to join the Colusa County Sheriff’s Department, where Merced had worked as a deputy for 26 years, or the California Highway Patrol, where his nephew worked.
“Natalie said, ‘Dad, I have found the perfect department in the perfect city,” her father recalled. ” I can’t see myself going anywhere else. This is where I want to work.”
Merced Corona said Natalie would come home every day after working at the Davis police department and be excited about telling her parents how much fun she had that day.
“I now feel guilty because on a few occasions, we would hear her getting home, and I would tell Lupe, ‘here comes Nat – turn off the light and act like we’re sleeping,” he said, drawing laughter from the crowd. “But somehow, she always seem to know. She would come in, turn on the light, and she would say, ‘I just want to tell you what happened – real quick.'”
It was never quick – often taking 30-40 minutes – before her parents would beg her to turn off the light.
Two years ago, Natalia Corona decided to show her gratitude to law enforcement by creating the now ubiquitous photo of her with the Thin Blue Line flag.
“She wanted to represent the Blue Line – it took her two months to decide on the exact dress to wear,” said her father.
Once the photo was taken, she immediately posted it on her Facebook page.
“Little did she know that she in this picture would touch so many lives around the world,” he said.
Merced Corona said it was his faith that sustained him after Natalie died.
“God makes no mistakes,” he said. “Everything may seem to us as bad luck, as a horrible and senseless death, but I can assure you, God himself placed Natalie to be on duty that day, on that shift, at that hour, responding to that call for service, standing on that exact spot, and He himself called her into His presence.”
One of the poignant moments during the service came when Merced Corona recalled an exchange he had with Natalie after she became a sworn officer.
“One of my proudest moments, after pinning her badge, was when she asked me, ‘Pop, can I now call you brother cop?’ and after telling her ‘no’ for so long, I finally told her, ‘yes, Nat, you can call me brother cop,’ ” he said. “So, to all her brother and sister cops, today we lay to rest our beloved sister cop.”
After the service, a long procession of police vehicles followed the hearse carrying Natalie Corona’s coffin to her home town of Arbuckle, where she was buried.