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Accused Oregon Police Corporal’s Murderer Apprehended By SWAT

Ontario, OR – The suspect accused of murdering a Nyssa police corporal on Saturday has been apprehended.

Oregon State Police (OSP) SWAT tracked down 36-year-old Rene Castro at a home in Ontario with the assistance of the Ontario Police Department (OPD), the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), and members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and surrounded the residence at approximately 6:40 a.m. on April 17, KGW reported.

SWAT officers moved in at and took the alleged cop-killer into custody at about 7:40 a.m., according to the OSP.

No one was injured during the apprehension.

Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe charged Castro on Tuesday with aggravated murder, first-degree murder, felon in possession of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon, and fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

His bail was set at $1 million.

Castro is due back in court on April 21 with the expectation he will be presented with a grand jury indictment, according to the Malheur Enterprise.

He could face the death penalty if he is convicted.

Goldthorpe said the fatal shooting occurred at approximately 8:30 p.m. on April 15, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

Goldthorpe said the Nyssa Police Department (NPD) received a report of an incident involving “a violent individual” who had allegedly threatened several people and damaged property near a residence in Nyssa.

The suspect was later identified as Castro, The Malheur Enterprise reported.

NPD Reserve Corporal Joseph “Joe” Johnson, 43, was responding to the area when he learned Castro had fled in a vehicle.

He soon spotted the suspect vehicle and “began a pursuit through the city,” Goldthorpe said.

The chase continued to the area of Locust Drive and Third Street, where Castro abruptly pulled up at a home, The Malheur Enterprise reported.

Cpl. Johnson then pulled off the road and stopped his patrol car to make contact with Castro.

“Immediately upon making the stop, an armed subject [believed to be Castro] began shooting at Officer Johnson,” Goldthorpe said. “There was no time to return fire before Officer Johnson was fatally hit.”

MCSO deputies and members of the OSP were already responding to the scene after being alerted about the pursuit and arrived to find the wounded corporal, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

Castro had fled the scene.

“EMTs were on scene in record time, with the Malheur County Sheriff’s Department right behind, but Officer Johnson was already deceased,” Goldthorpe said.

The corporal was still inside his vehicle when he succumbed to his wounds, according to KTVB.

Goldthorpe said investigators have had prior dealings with the suspect, according to KTVB.

He previously served a stint in prison for shooting three people during an incident in Ontario in 2006, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

The OSP is leading the investigation into Cpl. Johnson’s murder, KPTV reported.

Law enforcement officers from multiple agencies and jurisdictions participated in the search for his killer.

Cpl. Johnson began his law enforcement career in 2007, when he was hired as a corrections officer at Snake River Correctional Institution near Ontario, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

Oregon Department of Corrections Communications Manager Amber Campbell said the longtime officer began working as a behavioral health specialist in the prison’s Behavioral Health Services Section in 2022.

He simultaneously served the NPD as a reserve officer, having been hired by the department on Aug. 13, 2018.

Cpl. Johnson was presented with the police department’s Outstanding Performance Award in December of 2022, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

“Joe was greatly admired and respected professional and personally,” Snake River Correctional Institution Acting Superintendent Joe Woodland said in a message to the slain corporal’s prison colleagues. “Please continue to honor the great person that Joe was. Keep him, his family, co-workers and friends in your caring thoughts at this time.”

Oregon Governor Tina Kotek ordered flags be lowered to half-staff in Cpl. Johnson’s honor, KPTV reported.

“This is an absolute tragedy,” Kotek said. “I extend my sincere condolences to Officer Johnson’s family, friends, and the public safety community who knew him well.”

“Officer Johnson’s service and dedication to his community and our state will not be forgotten,” she added.

Cpl. Johnson leaves behind his wife and two children, according to KGW.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin


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