DAVIS, Calif. (AP) — Natalie Corona followed in her father’s footsteps and became a police officer, fulfilling a lifelong dream just a few months ago when her dad had the honor of pinning the badge on her uniform.
Father and daughter beamed with pride in a photograph from the swearing-in ceremony at the Davis Police Department, where the 22-year-old rookie was remembered Friday as a rising star with a sparkling smile and a huge heart.
Corona was shot and killed Thursday night, becoming the second officer killed in the line of duty in California in the past two and a half weeks.
The shooter opened fire as Corona was investigating a three-car-crash in the city west of Sacramento, a college town that is home to the University of California, Davis where there has not been a fatal police shooting in nearly 60 years.
The suspect, who has not been identified, was later found dead inside a home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound following a short standoff with officers, the Davis Police Department said Friday.
Police have not determined what prompted the attack on a residential block up the street from a park that hosts a weekend farmer’s market. Residents placed flowers at a growing memorial outside the police department Friday, where flags flew at half-staff.
“She’s the cop that any community would want,” said Lt. Paul Doroshov, a spokesman for the Davis police department. “Everybody who met her liked her.”
“She was the best of us,” said Davis officer Mike Yu, after placing a “Blue Lives Matter” flag at the crime scene, about a mile from the police station.
Corona graduated from the Sacramento Police Academy last July and completed her training in December just before Christmas, officials said.
She responded alone to a traffic accident shortly before 7 p.m. Thursday on a residential street lined with mature trees and bordered by churches on both sides.
One of the drivers in the crash, Christian Pascual, 25, says the shooter fired from behind him and he didn’t believe it was someone involved in the crash.
Pascaul told The Sacramento Bee he got out of his car to exchange information with the other drivers when Corona arrived.
“I gave her my license and she was just about to give it to me,” Pascual said. “That’s when I heard the shots.” He said he ducked and when he looked up Corona was on the ground.
Corona later died at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.
“She was a rising star in the department,” Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel said in an emotional news conference late Thursday. “Natalie was just full of life and full of energy and just an absolute pleasure to be around.”
Corona’s father spent 26 years as a Colusa County Sheriff’s deputy, and Corona grew up dreaming of becoming a law enforcement officer like him, her cousin Emily Gomez told The Associated Press.
“I don’t remember her talking about anything else than wanting to become an officer,” Gomez, 26, said, “He prepared her to go to the (police) academy.”
A photograph published by the Williams Pioneer Review shows her father, Merced Corona, pinning her badge at her swearing-in ceremony in August.
Lyssa Nicole, who trained Corona at the police academy, said the officer loved helping people and protecting people.
“She had such a big heart,” Nicole said. “All she wanted to do was help people.”
In December, the Davis Police department posted a picture of Corona on its Facebook page showing her bringing Christmas gifts to a family who lost their home in the deadly fire that had destroyed the town of Paradise weeks earlier. She carried a Santa Claus-like sack that said “Happy Holidays” over her shoulder.
Corona’s own Facebook page includes a glamorous picture of herself in a royal blue gown, holding a “Thin Blue Line Flag,” which represents law enforcement, with a tribute that now rings eerily.
“I would like this photograph 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,” Corona wrote in the October 2016 post.
Lt. Paul Doroshov, a spokesman for the Davis police department, said the agency hasn’t lost an officer in the line of duty since 1959 when officer Douglas Cantrill was killed.
Corona is the second officer killed in California in the past two and a half weeks.
Cpl. Ronil Singh, 33, of the Newman Police Department was shot to death Dec. 26 after he stopped a suspected drunk driver.
Gustavo Arriaga Perez, also 33, was charged with the murder. Authorities said Perez Arriaga was in the country illegally and was preparing to flee to Mexico when he was arrested. That killing rekindled a debate over California’s sanctuary law that limits cooperation by local officials with federal immigration authorities.
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