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Family, chief mourn ‘rising star’ rookie officer, gunned down 5 months after she was sworn in

José Merced Corona pins daughter Natalie's badge on her uniform during a swearing-in ceremony Aug. 2, 2018, in Davis, Calif. (Williams Pioneer Review/AP) (AP)

There was no question that Natalie Corona would work in law enforcement. Her father, a 26-year veteran of the Colusa County Sheriff’s Department, told NBC Bay Area that she rarely discussed anything else.

His daughter joined the Davis Police Department in 2016 as a community service officer — a job she remained excited about even when the department ran out of funding to pay her, Chief Darren Pytel said during a news conference.

Corona realized her dream in August upon graduating from the police academy. A photo captured the young woman’s proud smile as her father, José Merced Corona, pinned on her badge.

“She would always call me ‘brother cop,’ and I would say, ‘you can’t call me ‘brother cop' because you’re not there yet,’ " he recalled to Fox40. “When she graduated from the academy, she says, ‘Okay, so now can I call you “brother cop”?’ And I said, ‘yeah.’ ”

The 22-year-old completed field training before Christmas, Pytel said, and soon the department’s “rising star” was out on her own. Police say that on Thursday evening, the rookie responded to a minor three-vehicle collision — a routine traffic investigation where no injuries were reported.

Then a gunman emerged from the shadows.

The man, later identified by authorities as 48-year-old Kevin Douglas Limbaugh, approached Corona on a bicycle and opened fire, Pytel said — shooting the promising officer as he unloaded his entire magazine.

Police say Limbaugh also shot a flurry of bullets toward others, striking a bystander’s backpack and a firefighter in the boot, before fleeing into a home. Police surrounded the residence, leading to a standoff, which ended with Limbaugh pushing a couch in front of the door.

Officers reported hearing a gunshot and later found Limbaugh dead inside, Pytel said.

No one else was injured in the attack besides Corona, who died at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. The chief called Corona’s killing a “devastating loss for this entire department.”

“I haven’t seen anyone work harder in a part-time capacity and work harder to be a police officer than Natalie,” he said. “She’s just an absolute star in the department and somebody that pretty much every department member pretty much looked to as a close friend and sister.”

Her father told Fox40 that he wants people to remember that his daughter died doing what she loved.

“She just enjoyed her job. She would come home, and she would be beaming,” José Corona told the outlet.

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Her devotion to the department and Davis community was put on display Saturday night, when more than 1,000 mourners gathered for a candlelight vigil in her honor. There, the Sacramento Bee reported, several members of the Davis police force shared anecdotes illustrating Corona’s commitment to helping others.

Officer Kerith Briesenick recalled a time when Corona went out of her way to aid a victim of the Camp Fire in response to a call.

“We went back to that house, knocked on the door, and out of the goodness of her heart, delivered a whole Santa bag full of presents and packages for a fire victim, just on her own,” Briesenick said. “She hadn’t asked anybody about it; she just did it.”

Davis police posted a photo of Corona delivering the presents in December, writing, “We are always proud of the work our officers do, but we have a little extra pride today.”

In the interview with Fox40, Corona’s father described a recent incident in which his daughter helped a man she arrested, leaving him in tears.

“She came home and said, ‘You know, dad, I had to take this person’s bag of cereal, and that was all they had to eat. So I put five dollars in his bag and told him that was going to be for when he got out,’ ” José Corona said.

He responded, “Well, Natalie, you can do that, but you’re going to run into people like that all the time.”

She replied, “I know, dad, but I don’t mind.' ”

Police told the Bee on Saturday that investigators had recovered a one-paragraph letter they say was written by Limbaugh, found face up in the bed of his rental property. Police also found two semiautomatic handguns not registered to Limbaugh, matching witness descriptions of the firearm the man used to kill Corona, the outlet reported.

The letter, which was signed “Citizen Kevin Limbaugh,” read: “The Davis Police department has been hitting me with ultra sonic waves meant to keep dogs from barking. I notified the press, internal affairs, and even the FBI about it. I am highly sensitive to its affect [sic] on my inner ear. I did my best to appease them, but they have continued for years and I can’t live this way anymore.”

Corona’s father told Fox40 that her family is not angry about her death.

"You know we’re going to grieve, and the individual is not with us any longer, so we’re very faithful people,” he said. “I think she died doing what she loved to do. She knew that was a possibility, and I think she embraced that.”

She is survived by her father, her mother, Lupe Corona, and sister Jackie Corona.

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