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Oregon Police Corporal Murdered By Gunman, Manhunt Underway

Nyssa, OR – A Nyssa Police Department (NPD) reserve officer was murdered in the line of duty while investigating a report about a violent suspect threatening people and damaging property near a home in Nyssa on Saturday.

Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe said the incident occurred at approximately 8:30 p.m. on April 15, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

Goldthorpe said the 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 36-year-old Rene Castro, The Malheur Enterprise reported.

As 43-year-old NPD Reserve Corporal Joseph Johnson was responding to the area, he learned Castro had fled in a vehicle.

Cpl. Johnson 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.”

Malheur County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) deputies and members of the Oregon State Police (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 and has not been apprehended.

“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.

Investigators found Castro’s abandoned SUV less than two blocks away from the scene of the attack, the Malheur Enterprise reported.

The manhunt for Castro continues.

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

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.

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

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

This is a developing story and we will keep you updated. For all of our updates, follow us on Facebook and go to your news feed preferences under your settings, then select that you want to see more of The Police Tribune’s posts in your news feed. Otherwise, Facebook may not show you updates.

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.

View all articles
Written by Holly Matkin


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