DAVIS, Calif. — Thousands of police officers from across the country gathered at a memorial service Friday for a 22-year-old rookie who had long dreamed of becoming an officer and was killed just weeks into the job in a Northern California college town.
As uniformed officers took their seats, holding their hats, a slideshow on giant screens displayed family pictures and the brief professional life of Davis Officer Natalie Corona, who was shot and killed last week.
“Natalie’s passion for police work started when she was very young,” according to a program handed out at the service. “She always said, ‘I want to become a police officer just like my dad.’”
The program called Corona compassionate and caring, a star athlete who made her high school All-Star basketball team and a thrill-seeker who loved roller coasters and went skydiving.
Up to 6,000 officers, family members, friends and members of the public were expected at the service at the University of California, Davis.
Corona’s slaying has shocked Davis, which prides itself as a safe, family-friendly community anchored by one of the state’s top universities. The last time a police officer died in the line of duty in Davis was in 1959.
Family, colleagues and others who knew Corona have recalled her vibrant smile, compassion, dedication and lifelong dream of joining law enforcement like her father, Jose Merced Corona, who spent 26 years as a Colusa County sheriff’s deputy.
A rising star in the Davis department, Corona graduated from the Sacramento Police Academy in July and had completed her field training in December. She was assigned to patrol on her own just weeks ago.
On the evening of Jan. 10, there was no apparent danger when Corona responded solo to a three-car crash in downtown Davis, near the university campus. But as Corona talked to the drivers, gunfire erupted.
Police say gunman Kevin Douglas Limbaugh, 48, was not involved in the crash but rode up on a bicycle and opened fire on Corona without warning. He hit her in the neck and fired more shots as she lay on the ground, reloading at least twice as he fired at passing vehicles, narrowly avoiding wounding others before he casually walked home.
Police are still investigating the motive and say Limbaugh did not appear to know Corona or specifically target her. It is also not yet clear if Limbaugh had planned the attack or acted spontaneously, Davis police Lt. Paul Doroshov said.
Limbaugh dropped a backpack that led officers to identify him and trace him to his house, where he had a brief standoff with police, went back inside and killed himself, Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel said.
Police found two unregistered semiautomatic handguns at the house and a handwritten note on the bed that claimed police had been bombarding him for years with ultrasonic waves and he “can’t live this way anymore.”
Limbaugh was charged and convicted in a battery case last fall after assaulting a colleague at a casino where he worked. He was ordered then to surrender a semiautomatic rifle he owned. It is not clear how he obtained the two handguns.
After the memorial service, a funeral procession is planned from Davis to the town of Arbuckle about 40 miles (65 kilometers) north, where the Corona family lives. The slain officer is survived by her mother, her father and three younger sisters.