The road leading to Natalie Corona’s grave site was lined with mourners along freeway shoulders and frontage roads of shared grief and mournful respect.
They grieved for about 40 miles, the distance from the UC Davis campus, where the slain Davis police officer was memorialized, to Arbuckle, the town where Corona was raised and buried on Friday.
At each freeway overpass along the way to Corona’s final resting place, citizens had amassed next to fire engines draped in American flags. The processional route passed a school early in the journey and there they were: school kids lined side-by-side, their hands over their hearts as Corona’s massive law enforcement escort passed by in a long line of flashing lights and cop cruisers from across the state of California.
Starting on northbound Highway 113 and connecting to northbound Interstate 5, the final ride of Natalie Corona was profound, defying words. The silent expressions of curbside mourners were genuine and heartfelt. As you drove by, they appeared through a car window to be a lines of faces stricken in every shade of grief. Near a tractor belonging to farmers stood workers who, based on their appearance and our region’s immigration labor trends, were from Corona’s ancestral homeland of Mexico.
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In death, Natalie Corona had touched them all.
Forty miles and beyond. This 22-year-old woman killed senselessly on Jan. 10 by a gunman for reasons that may never be known has, in death, unified people across the spectrum of diverse experiences. Through her radiant smile and her dedication to her law enforcement career, her faith and her family, Corona bridged cultural and social chasms that otherwise keep people apart.
Her mourners, whose disparate lives might never have intersected, gathered at her graveside service together. Despite the overwhelming grief, standing among those who traveled long distances to pay their final respects was inspiring.
Bagpipes played by law enforcement officers fulfilled a ritual bestowed upon fallen cops that has roots in Ireland and Scotland. Near the bagpipe players stood Spanish-speaking women who had clearly just finished a shift in the nearby harvest fields where Corona’s ancestors had once worked before law enforcement became the family business.
Based on the words of her law enforcement colleagues and family, Corona had touched people with her open heart and a ready smile. Such qualities are too often ignored until we are confronted with such a tragic loss to show us, she was what we aspire to be. Corona seemed to open her heart to people regardless of who they were, how they appeared, what they did.
Especially now, we need people like her. We need people whose hearts are open to all people, not just those who think like they do.
Natalie Corona was photographed in a blue dress and with a Blue Lives Matter flag in a now iconic photo, and she did so with the best of intentions. She wanted to pay tribute to the officers who swore to keep us safe, who risk their lives for us, and who died for us.
Her father, Merced Corona, was a Colusa County Sheriff’s deputy who inspired his daughter to believe law enforcement is a noble career. Natalie Corona had the giving spirit to explain the difference between paying homage to law enforcement instead of shouting “blue lives matter” as epithet at people protesting police brutality.
She believed in understanding and community policing. As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Corona understood you could be a full-blooded American while retaining your cultural roots.
After her graveside service ended, a family friend took the microphone and asked mourners in Spanish to disperse so that the family could say its last goodbye and lower her into the earth.
What an immeasurable loss for a family, a community, a state and a nation. Natalie Corona was the best among us because of how she lived. She lived the gospel preached in the Catholic churches of her youth. Now the rest of us are left with the question of whether we can live up to her.
Can we forgive those who trespass against us? Can we keep our hearts open to all?
We owe it to her to try.