UPDATE: 5 p.m Sunday, April 16 – Authorities recover in Nyssa the vehicle believe used by the gunman.
UPDATE: 4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 16 – Schools to get extra security and teen recounts traffic stop moments before the shooting.
UPDATE: 12:30 a.m. Sunday, April 16 – Police release photos of the suspect being sought.
UPDATE: Noon Sunday, April 16 – Information about the officer’s work history and remarks from the state prison in Ontario have been added.
A Nyssa Police Department reserve police officer was shot and killed Saturday night.
The shooting occurred about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 15, after the officer, identified as Corporal Joseph Johnson, 43, pursued a vehicle that came to a stop at the intersection of North Third Street and Locust Avenue, according to a statement issued by Malheur County District Attorney Dave Goldthorpe.
The killer fled and has not been caught, authorities say. Local and state police and federal agents were working Sunday to find him.
The suspect is identified as Rene Castro, 36, of Nyssa. Anyone with information about his possible location, please call Malheur County Dispatch at 541-473-5125.
The Oregon State Police is handling the investigation.
Johnson has been a reserve officer for Nyssa since 2018, state records show. He works as a behavioral health specialist at Snake River Correctional Institution in Ontario.
Goldthorpe said that Johnson was responding to “a call of concern regarding a violent individual damaging property and threatening others near a residence in Nyssa. In the process of responding, Officer Johnson learned the suspect (Rene Castro) had fled in a vehicle and began a pursuit through the city.”
The pursued vehicle pulled into a home at the corner of Third Street and Locust Drive and “Officer Johnson pulled off the road as well,” the statement said.
“Immediately upon making the stop, an armed subject (believed to be Castro) began shooting at Officer Johnson. There was no time to return fire before Officer Johnson was fatally hit,” Goldthorpe reported.
Officers from the Oregon State Police and Malheur County Sheriff’s Ofifce were already headed to Nyssa after Johnson alerted dispatchers to the pursuit.
“EMTs were on scene in record time, with the Malheur County Sheriff’s Department right behind, but Officer Johnson was already deceased,” the statement said.
Moments before the shooting, Johnson stopped 17-year-old Trenton Pierce in downtown Nyssa.
Pierce told the Enterprise that he had been visiting with friends at the Nyssa High School parking lot when he saw Johnson drive by and park down the street. Pierce said he left the school grounds on his motorcycle, which was missing its license plate.
The teen, who lives in Parma, called home at 8:08 p.m. to get insurance information the officer wanted.
“He didn’t give me a ticket,” Pierce said. “He was a super cool cop.”
Just 12 minutes later, Johnson was dispatched to the disturbance call.
Police later recovered a silver SUV that matched the description of the vehlcle Johnson was pursuing. The vehicle was found near North Park, just a block or two from the shooting scene.
On Sunday afternoon, Darren Johnson, superintendent of the Nyssa School District issued a statement.
“We understand that this news may be difficult for some of our students and staff to process, and we are here to offer support. Additional counselors will be available tomorrow and through the week for any who may need the extra emotional support,” he wrote.
“We are working closely with the city to ensure the safety of our staff and students while at school,” he wrote, later confirming to the Enterprise that “we plan to have a stronger police presence around the schools tomorrow and through the week.”
Treasure Valley Community College said in a Facebook post Sunday evening that since 2018 Johnson taught criminal justice classes. The college said he started as a campus security officer in 2001.
Johnson is the first officer killed in the line of duty in Malheur County since 1957. On April 5, 1957, Officer Alfred C. Evans died after he was struck by a car while rolling up wire in an underpass, according to the state’s website memorializing fallen officers.
“The appreciation, love and concern of all citizens of Malheur County go out to the family of Officer Johnson. The Fallen Badge Foundation is accepting donations on behalf of the family,” Goldthorpe said in his statement.
State records show Johnson was hired as a corrections officer at Snake River Correctional Institution outside Ontario in 2007. In 2022, he shifted to work in the prison’s Behavioral Health Services Section, according to Amber Campbell, communications manager for the Oregon Department of Corrections. That section treats “adults in custody who are mentally ill, cognitively impaired and/or developmentally disabled,” according to the agency.
Johnson joined the Nyssa agency as a reserve officer on Aug. 13, 2018. Last December, he was given the agency’s Outstanding Performance Award.
The records show Johnson got an associate’s degree from Treasure Valley Community College in 1999 and earned a bachelor’s degree in 2006 and a master’s degree in 2020.
Joe Woodland, acting superintendent at the Ontario prison, notified workers of the death.
“Joe was greatly admired and respected professional and personally,” Woodland said. “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.”
The Nyssa Police Department provides around-the-clock patrols in the city of 3,200. The city’s website shows the department is budget for a chief, five patrol officers, one school resource officer and a part-time ordinance officer. The website said the department also has eight reserve positions.
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Reporters Pat Caldwell and Steven Mitchell contributed reporting.
Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email: [email protected].