Sunday Commentary: Trying to Make Sense of a Senseless Tragedy

Kevin Limbaugh/ courtesy photo

I have seen the comments that tragedies like this are not supposed to happen in Davis.  While I understand the sentiment, I’m not sure if I agree with it.  In my time of covering events in Davis, we have reported on and discussed quite a few different issues – from the tragedy of the Daniel Marsh killings to the Pepper Spray incident – and our still small community has seen its share of triumph and tragedy in the last 12 years.

What happened on Thursday night is a reminder to us all that we must be cautious, even if we feel safe and secure in our own community.

The incident itself is chilling.  Most experts believe there was not much that Officer Natalie Corona could have done.  A traffic collision had occurred, the young officer on the force since July had finished her field training in December, but there was little she could have done.

While she was checking the licenses of the drivers, the assailant, 48-year-old Kevin Limbaugh, would ride up on on a bicycle, emerging from the shadows and opening fire with his semiautomatic handgun.  Given the darkness, Chief Darren Pytel described the incident as “an ambush.”

Mr. Limbaugh, whose photo made its way across the media on Saturday after his name was identified, was a familiar face across town.  The police initially described him as having no criminal record – that turned out to not quite be true, as there was a punching incident at his workplace at Cache Creek Casino, but he was not someone who was known for making trouble.

Here he was, living directly across the street from the fire station, right by the location of the shooting.  The punching incident at the casino resulted in a battery with serious bodily injury, but he had agreed to surrender the AR-15 rifle in November – which he did – to the Davis Police Department.

According to court records, Mr. Limbaugh did not possess any other weapons and authorities have yet to determine where the two semiautomatic handguns he used on Thursday during the shooting might have been obtained.

We learned more from a one-paragraph letter that Lt. Paul Doroshov said was found face up on his bed.

The note reads: “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 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.”

It was signed “Citizen Kevin Limbaugh.”

What seems troubling is this – the note is suggestive of serious mental illness, but there was little indication before this incident that he was capable of this behavior.  It is a far cry from a fight at a workplace to murdering a police officer.

While he had the one incident, authorities have found no other criminal charges, nor were there signs of mental illness when the battery case occurred and was resolved.

One media account had a former roommate noting that he lived “a trouble life,” “felt trapped,” and had “deep anger issues,” but none of them saw this coming.  He was described as “a regular guy” who “had a nice car” and “worked graveyard shifts at a casino.”

The wounds in this community are open and will not heal for some time.  There have been makeshift memorials to Officer Corona, both at the police station and along 5th Street.  A candlelight vigil on Saturday brought out an estimated 2500 people.

There will be questions.  Questions that will be asked.  Questions that might not have answers.

The note clearly sheds some light on the situation.  Was it meant to be read by officials after he ended his own life?  It was face up on his bed.  Lt. Doroshov told the Vanguard that it was not clear when it was written, but the location and placement of the note seems rather clear.

One of the questions that will need to be answered – if it can be answered at all – is whether he was planning something anyway and this incident simply occurred right in his vicinity, or did he merely respond to a target of opportunity when the collision brought a police officer within a block of his residence?

So far people who knew him describe him as troubled, but there were few signs that he was capable of something like this.  The police obviously knew about him, since he surrendered the weapon, but he was not someone who was constantly producing problems that led to police encounters. 

Were there signs of mental illness other than the final letter?  Could intervention have occurred?  Would it have made a difference?

Given that he was prohibited from carrying weapons, and in fact turned in his AR-15 to authorities just recently, another logical question will be about gun policies and the availability of weapons on the streets.

It is reasonable to point out that he seemed to at least initially comply with regulations.  How he got the other two weapons, where they came from, is one piece of this that authorities should be able to determine.

On a personal level, Thursday night will be a night that I will never forget.  The night began with a difficult meeting at Montgomery Elementary on the Pacifico issue, which we covered on Friday.  Neighbors are frustrated by the current facility and nuisance that seems to be surrounding current uses, and alarmed that proposed expansions of those uses will generate additional problems.

On the other hand, mental health officials at the county believe that, between the residential treatment and navigational services, they will better be able to provide treatment for those in need of mental health care.

How ironic then, that at the same time downtown, a tragedy was unfolding.  While still at the meeting, I received an ominous text – active shooter downtown – downtown on lockdown – shelter in place – and finally the fateful text – officer shot.

Kelly Stachowicz, the assistant city manager, made an announcement at the meeting that there was a situation unfolding and to avoid the downtown.

This was the first sense that there was something going on.

Still not knowing the extent of the situation, I planned to head home.  But by 10 pm, there was an announced press conference at the PD, so I headed over and Lt. Doroshov told the media that the officer, unidentified at this time, was alive but in critical condition.

We were told the chief would speak later that night.  We could come back.

I raced home, processed a few photos and wrote up what there was.

By 11:30 something was wrong.  We were called back.  In walked Chief Pytel flanked by the entire city council, city manager, assistant city manager, and Supervisor Saylor.  I felt sick.  I knew this was not good.  I knew it before they said anything.

Still the news hit me hard.  A young woman.  Twenty-two years old.  Dedicated.  A senseless killing.

We didn’t know the details at the time, but I am told that at the point at which she left Davis, she was still alive.  She had been hit in the neck and lost a lot of blood. 

Shot in front of the fire station meant almost immediate medical attention – although the firefighters took fire themselves, one being hit in the boot, but no injury.  Even this was not enough to save her life.

While we wait for more answers – my initial reaction to this is that this was simply a senseless tragedy.  We often use the word senseless because at times we live in a world that is so difficult to make sense of.

Death and killings rarely if ever make sense.  And yet to say this is senseless is not enough.  What we saw here goes beyond senseless.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Craig Ross

    There are a lot of elephants here that need to be talked about.  At some point it’s time to talk about them.  For instance, it seems pretty clear to this layman that the note suggests Limbaugh is mentally ill, he had to give back his AR-15 (thank god for small favors) but then apparently got to new weapons.
    There are a couple of other issues here, but I’ll stop at that and see if the time is right or if it’s still too soon.

  2. Matt Williams

    Davis gets rude introduction to world everybody else lives in

    With one word changed that is the headline of a December 31, 2001 article by David Lazarus in the San Francisco Chronicle.  The article read as follows:

    America gets rude introduction to world everybody else lives in

    This was the year of living helplessly.

    From rolling blackouts and soaring energy costs to the ghastly Sept. 11 attacks, 2001 will be remembered as much as anything for the frustration felt by ordinary folk in grappling with circumstances well beyond their control.

    To find out recently, as we did, that the economy in fact was in a recession for most of the year only adds a kick in the teeth to the whole sorry 12 months.

    Yet I remain optimistic. The energy crisis is behind us (and will stay that way, fingers crossed), the roundup of Osama bin Laden and his henchmen continues, and all the prognosticators seem to agree that the economy is headed for recovery around the middle of 2002.

    I’d go so far as to suggest that a really nasty year like this one offers the perverse plus of shaking us loose from our made-in-America complacency. It reminds us that we are very much inhabitants of an all-too-unpredictable world.

    It’s easy to forget that. Our nation is so powerful, and so bountiful, that at times it seems as though we live on a different planet from those scary places that comprise the background static of CNN — places where hunger, thirst, sickness and other horrors are so wretchedly commonplace.

    And look at us now: blackouts . . . terrorism . . . recession. This was the year America joined the Third World.

    Feelings of helplessness stem primarily from this strange and unexpected juxtaposition of great wealth and great turmoil. We are, after all, the sole remaining superpower, as we have been told countless times by a global media utterly enamored and repulsed by our unique standing.

    Suddenly, we find ourselves looking skyward and wondering what could possibly come next. And the mere fact that we even ask the question underlines the uncharacteristic vulnerability that has become a part of our daily existence.

    Terrorism is frightening — the whole point of the exercise, of course — but there’s a randomness to it that, no matter how epic the nature of the attack, still makes one think, “Well, what are the odds of that happening to me?”

    For this reason, I believe the California energy crisis best captured the gnawing sense of futility that defined 2001.
    With rolling blackouts, we all received a number from PG&E, like standing in line at the deli. When your number came up, the lights went out, sometimes for an hour, sometimes longer.

    There was nothing you could do about it except wait your turn, be as prepared as possible, and then hope power would be restored before the milk in the fridge went bad.

    Oh, there were reasons for the blackouts — insufficient supply, freak weather, sneaky energy companies — but what difference did it make? One day you had juice, the next you didn’t. End of story.

    The sour economy also reinforced feelings of helplessness. It was bad — we all knew it was bad. The tsunami of layoffs in Silicon Valley made clear that this was no mere “slowdown,” as the pundits had been calling things until a darker word came into view.

    But this recession was different. It was like a flu that wouldn’t subside. After a while, you just shrugged and went about your business, ill but not incapacitated.

    The deep thinkers told us in November, eight months after the fact, that the economy had been in a recession since March, which I suppose was good to know but didn’t really change a thing. Maybe if things improve by mid-2002, as expected, we’ll find out officially by early 2003.

    And maybe by then we’ll be able to once again seriously discuss certain matters without being labeled a traitor (or worse).

    Is George W. Bush really president? A major media study concluded that maybe he is, if you counted votes one way, and maybe he isn’t, if you counted them another.

    But in a time of war, the issue was deemed inappropriate (I hate it when questions of democratic process get in the way of our elections) and was banished from polite conversation.

    Remember Chandra Levy? Stem cells? Safeguarding Social Security? Drilling for oil in Alaskan wildlife refuges? How about good old-fashioned civil liberties?

    We don’t talk about those things anymore. Or if we do, it’s not with any meaningful sense of purpose.
    It’s been that kind of year.

    Sometimes, especially of late, I catch myself feeling afraid — for myself, my family, the nation — and I don’t like it.

    In a time of powerlessness, we learn to live with our fears. We do not confront them. We do not overcome them.

    Perhaps the greatest damage caused by this year of living helplessly is a lingering sense of resignation that this is how things must be from now on — or, as people were recently so fond of saying, nothing will ever be the same.

    I don’t accept that. We may not be able to control the world around us — 2001 has made that much abundantly clear — but we can control our response to the unexpected, and we can rise above the misfortunes we encounter.

    What will the New Year bring? Who can say? But I do know we can either shape our destinies or be shaped by them.

    For 2002, I choose the former.

  3. Edgar Wai

    This situation reminds me of Patch Adams the movie. The doctor and his staff had great aspirations to change the caring of mental issues, then one of the staff members got murdered. There is a limit and diminish return in analyzing and trying to prevent “another tragedy like that” when such an event is an effect of many things outside our control. 

    The only concrete countermeasure, the one that we have full control, is resilience, to become a better person like Natalie. Her classmates all said that they were inspired by her and would continue to see her as a role model. If Natalie stayed longer, we might see more of her good work, healing wounds in our community more and more. Perhaps she might even reconnect and heal the shooter and this episode would not have happened. If that was the future that her way would have led, then Natalie already showed us how. I am not trying to say that all police officers need to become like Natalie or her way is the only way.  If everyone she knew agreed that she was the nicest person there was, and we expect all police officers to be like that, the expectation is too high. 

    Or that to be a police officer, one needs to be elected or endorsed by the community as a nice enough person before the community approve them to carry a gun and to carry the authority to enforce the law, or if earlier, before they even start training to be an officer. 

    Does it sound cruel that to be an officer, the candidate who volunteered to risk their lives for us needed to be approved by the community? Or does it sound warm that as a community, we want to know the good things about the officers a lot earlier. I don’t want to hear all the good things they have done only after they died. That is too late.

    I want to know the funny stories of our other officers now.

  4. Edgar Wai

    The real Patch Adam’s prescription to society:

    1. Pick up all the trash in an area in your hometown; be its guardian. Tell others about it.
    2. Be friendly to everyone at all times; experiment outrageously.
    3. Offer a shoulder or foot rub in any environment.
    4. Always speak up for justice, no matter how much it costs.
    5. Go once a week on a “house call” to a nursing home to cheer people up as a friend.
    6. Turn off your TV and become interesting. Perform yourself.
    7. Consider being silly in public. Sing out loud. Wear funny stuff.
    8. Find ways to need a whole lot less money; share beyond belief.
    9. Have potlucks frequently, with neighbors, co-workers, strangers. Work toward living in extended families.
    10. Take your vacations in your own hometown and spend the money working on projects there that help build community.

  5. Alan Miller

    I have seen the comments that tragedies like this are not supposed to happen in Davis.

    This is such a media BS statement.  I’ve heard it for the last 50 years anytime something tragic happens in a small town.  Nowhere is immune, anymore than anywhere is immune to a plane falling out of the sky onto their building.  Unexpected and rare, but S happens.

    And having lived in Davis for nearly 40 years, there have been several tragic incidents of this magnitude, some involving the unpredictability of the mentally ill becoming seemingly randomly dislodged into a violent act.

    And there ain’t a d*mn thing we can do about it.

    1. John Hobbs

      “And there ain’t a d*mn thing we can do about it.”

      Not even a little bit true. Look at the dozens of missed opportunities to intervene in the actions of Chip Nortthrup and Claudia Maupin’s killer. How much parental negligence? How many missed doctor appointments? How many professionals passed that buck? Plenty could be done, it just isn’t.

      1. David Greenwald

        I don’t know that we know enough to say there’s not a damn thing we could do about it.  What I do know is that what we’re doing on the mental health front is not near enough.  And that’s where I would start.  Might also ask how he ended up getting two guns after being required to turn in his AR-15

        1. Edgar Wai

          Since the guns were not registered to him, he did something illegal to get the two hand guns (before or after turning in the rifle.)

          There are probably too many ways to get guns illegally if he had the will to do so.

          He wasn’t just trying to shoot anyone but the police. Either the police somehow heals the trust with him on their own, or we take part in maintaining such trust. 

          So do you want the police to do that alone or do you want to help? Is a question for everyone.

        2. Edgar Wai

          Re Grundler:
          You are correct that he kept shooting. I don’t know what he was thinking or whether he was aimming. Maybe he just fired so people stop looking to get away. 
          All we knew was that he shot Natalie with Christian standing in between, and that after she got shot he unloaded the whole magazine on her.
          So I interpreted that his intention was not to shoot and kill anyone else. He was shooting in order to escape.

      2. Alan Miller

        Good luck with that, Monday morning quarterback.

        My point was, little we can do to stop a particular random killing by a mentally ill person, because of the complete disconnect from human thought as most of us understand it regarding motive, method and opportunity, not to mention the ‘when they snap’ alarm could go off a 3:37am or 4:21pm or even 25:86 in their own time dynamic.

      3. Matt Williams

        John Hobbs said … How much parental negligence? How many missed doctor appointments? How many professionals passed that buck? Plenty could be done, it just isn’t.

        I think that statement does a good job of describing a substantial portion of UCD student food insecurity problem.  Somewhat different in the details, but right in the pattern of behavior.

        Human nature at work.

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