When many other little girls her age were putting on their mother’s heels and necklaces, Natalie Corona was pulling on her father’s police uniform.
She learned the police's “10 codes,” the signals used in radio transmissions, at the same time she learned the alphabet. When she went on ride-alongs with her father, a Colusa County sheriff’s deputy, she knew that an “11-95” meant a traffic stop and a “10-65” a missing person.
“She learned that in no time,” said her father of the oldest of his four daughters. “It was apparent to me very early on that she had the mind for it, that she had that desire to follow that path, that line of work.”
Some people suggested that Natalie – a tall, athletic and photogenic California girl who also was her high school homecoming queen – should consider modeling. She balked.
“She’d get frustrated,” her father said. “She’d say ‘There’s nothing else I want to do.’”
She joined the Davis Police Department in 2016, when she was just 19, as a part-time community service officer. Last summer, she graduated from the police academy and got the moment of a lifetime: her role model – her father – pinned her badge on during her swearing-in.
“I’m ready to hit the streets!” she said in a video taken on her graduation day. “It’s very exciting. I’m chasing a career. I’m taking after my father.”
Corona was expected to report to work at 7 a.m., but it was typical to see her at the Davis Police Department an hour earlier.
Corona, 22, wanted to make sure that the equipment that she and her training supervisor might need was all loaded into the patrol car, and then she’d check the computer for a list of people who had active warrants.
It was not a task anyone had given the young recruit, who completed her training in December.
“She was very motivated,” said Keirith Briesenick, who supervised Corona toward the end of her training. “She was a model employee all the way around. She was the world’s best trainee.”
Briesenick recalled speaking with her trainee about balancing compassion with caution.
“It’s a small college town,” Briesenick said of Davis, “we want to be seen as approachable, we want to build a rapport with everyone. But also, you can’t be friendly with just everybody. There are bad people who want to do bad things, and there’s a line that you learn not to cross.”
Mom, I want you to know that if I die tomorrow, I will have died very happy because at 22, I’m doing everything I set out to accomplish.
Corona was tough, but also sympathetic.
When she came across a family that was relocated to Davis after suffering devastating losses in the fires that swept Northern California just before the holidays, she could not get them out of her mind, Briesenick said. She bought them sneakers, toiletries and other things she learned they needed, and brought them to the family in a huge Santa Claus bag.
“We had gone to provide the family with referrals for resources, and we moved on with our other calls for the day,” Briesenick recalled. “But Natalie was sad, so she took it upon herself to go to the store the next week” to buy goods for them.
When she completed training and went out on calls on her own, she was giddy with excitement. She sent her father a photo of the empty passenger seat in her patrol car on her first day on her own.
“She said, ‘Look Dad! We’re really on our own now!’” Briesenick said.
She came home one day in early January, her father said, and said to her mother: “Mom, I want you to know that if I die tomorrow, I will have died very happy because, at 22, I’m doing everything I set out to accomplish.”
Two weeks later, she arrived on the scene of a three-car crash when police say a 48-year-old ex-convict, Kevin Limbaugh, ambushed her. She fell after the first shot, but Limbaugh reportedly kept firing, emptying his magazine.
Then he reloaded and started shooting again.
Limbaugh, who later died of a self-inflicted gunshot inside his home, had been determined to kill a police officer that day, and left a letter behind accusing the Davis Police Department of targeting him with ultrasonic waves.
“She didn’t die because she got out there and made mistakes,” her father said, “but because this coward decided that that day he was going to do that. She didn’t know what hit her. Natalie didn’t suffer, she went down very quickly.”