The call came into Davis police just before 7 p.m. Thursday, a three-car accident near 5th and D streets that by any measure would be considered routine.
Officer Natalie Corona, 22, who graduated from the Sacramento Police Department’s training academy in July and completed her field training just before Christmas, responded to the scene alone.
Corona, whose father spent 26 years as a Colusa County Sheriff’s deputy, was an eager rookie officer, a young woman who started with the department in 2016 as a community service officer and who stayed on the job even when funding for her position ran out.
She posted tributes on her Facebook page to fellow officers, including those who died in the line of duty.
Thursday night, she became one of the fallen when a suspect at the accident scene opened fire and gunned her down, sparking a nightlong siege in this quiet college town that lasted into Friday morning.
“She was a rising star in the department,” Davis Police Chief Darren Pytel said in a somber news conference just before midnight. “She just worked like you can’t believe.”
Officers from throughout the region and the Bay Area swarmed into Davis following the shooting, forcing shelter-in-place warnings for UC Davis students and prompting a flurry of text, phone and email alerts to the community.
Corona was rushed to the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, where she was pronounced dead late Thursday, while officers surrounded a home a block away from the shooting scene where they believed the suspect might be hiding.
Police spent hours trying to coax the suspect out, using floodlights and commands on loudspeakers for him to emerge with his hands up. At one point they sent in a robot and ignited flash bang grenades.
By 1:30 a.m. Friday, police finally announced what they found inside the rental home in the 500 block of Fifth Street.
“The shooter has been found, deceased, inside a home near 5th and E St in Davis with what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” Davis police wrote on Twitter.
The announcement did not name the suspect or provide a motive for the shooting.
Ninety minutes earlier, officers from Davis’ tight-knit department gathered at police headquarters to announce Corona’s death, making her the first Davis officer killed in the line of duty in six decades.
“We’re just absolutely devastated about the loss,” Pytel said, adding that he had notified her parents.
“I haven’t seen anybody work harder in a part-time capacity and be more motivated to be a police officer than Natalie,” said Pytel, who joined the Davis Police Department in 1983. “She was just an absolute star in the department and someone that pretty much every department member looked to as a close friend, a sister.”
Before she entered the academy, the Davis Police Department ran out of funding for the paid position she had been in. She didn’t care; she showed up to work as a volunteer, Pytel said.
Corona’s father, Merced Corona, was a 26-year veteran of the Colusa County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Williams Pioneer Review, which featured a story about his daughter being sworn into the Davis department on Aug. 2.
“Corona’s father had the honor of pinning his daughter’s badge last week,” the newspaper reported.
“We are extremely proud of Natalie and all her accomplishments at such a young age,” Merced Corona told the newspaper. “She is very excited to be a police officer and is very dedicated to the profession of law enforcement.”
That dedication was evident from the young woman’s Facebook page, which featured a photo of her wearing a blue dress and smiling as she held a “thin blue line” American flag devoted to honoring police.
The page includes a post in which she wrote that she wanted the photo 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.”
Comments offering prayers and thanks for her service also were being posted on the page late Thursday and early Friday.
Davis police had not identified the man inside the home as of early Friday, and earlier had described him as “a white male in his 20’s Average Build, Baseball Cap, Black Jacket, Blue or Tan Jeans, Black Tactical Boots.”
Heavily armed police were seen throughout the area late Thursday, blocking off intersections and scouring the area as bystanders watched, and law enforcement officers from throughout the region rushed to the area, including two dozen from the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
Shortly after the shooting, UC Davis police tweeted a “shelter in place” warning and advised people to stay away from downtown Davis, and authorities issued alerts via cell phone and text messages to alert citizens. Caltrans closed Richards Boulevard and Olive Drive offramps from Interstate 80 as the manhunt intensified.
By late Thursday, the shelter in place warning had been lifted, and UC Davis announced that classes would resume Friday.
Police maintained their focus on the home on Fifth Street, but had turned off their spotlights and were moving in and out of it through the night after declaring the suspect dead.
Pytel said the investigation into the shooting would be directed by the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department.
The Davis department is relatively small, with 61 sworn officers and 34 civilian staffers, and Davis police spokesman Lt. Paul Doroshov described it as a family, saying officers were “all pretty shocked” by the shooting.
One officer appeared at department headquarters Thursday night carrying a bouquet of flowers, but walked away after seeing the gathering of media inside.
The department’s 2017 annual report said violent and property crimes had decreased steadily in recent years, with one homicide reported in 2017 and none in 2016.
The department has not had an officer killed in the line of duty in nearly 60 years, when Douglas Cantrill was gunned down Sept. 7, 1959.
According to the previous reporting by The Sacramento Bee, the 23-year-old patrolman was found shot to death in his cruiser along H Street. Cantrill had stopped a man and woman acting suspicious in a residential neighbor when a struggle ensued and the killer had shot him with his service pistol.
Two suspects were caught but never charged with the officer’s slaying, according to the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office.
Cantrill, who had only served on the Davis force for a month after two years in law enforcement, was survived by a wife and infant child, the District Attorney’s Office said. His name is one of 11 inscribed on Yolo County’s Fallen Officer Memorial in Woodland.