In the community

Police seek public tips to track suspect’s movements, possible helpers over 36 hours

For roughly 36 hours, Rene Castro of Nyssa was on the run, evading an intense manhunt as police sought the suspect in the murder of a reserve police officer.

Castro, 36, is now in the Malheur County Jail, charged with felony crimes that could subject him to the death penalty.

Law enforcement officials said they now are focused on establishing where Castro was in the hours after Joseph Johnson, a Nyssa Police Department reserve corporal, was shot to death in his patrol car.

Police disclosed new details about the killing in a news conference on Tuesday, April 18, in Ontario and asked the community’s help tracking Castro’s movements.

“This investigation is ongoing,” said Capt. Kyle Kennedy, public information officer for the Oregon State Police. “We are trying to determine his whereabouts” after the shooting.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, asked anyone who spoke with or received messages from Castro to contact authorities.

“That would be very helpful,” he said.

Those with information can call the Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888 or *OSP on cell phones.

In the account provided by Kennedy, Johnson was on patrol when he was contacted by dispatchers at 8:17 p.m. A caller said that a man was attempting to damage a vehicle with a hammer.

That incident was at the Nyssa home that court records show Castro shared with his girlfriend. A person not involved in the news conference who asked not to be identified told the Enterprise of a conversation with the girlfriend a day later. The girlfriend described sitting in her car at the home when Castro began trying to break the window. The Enterprise does not identify the victims of domestic abuse.

Kennedy said that Johnson was enroute to respond by 8:18 p.m., and that the caller alerted dispatchers that the corporal had just passed the suspect, who was driving a silver Suburban.

After a brief pursuit, the first report of gunfire was reported at 8:20 p.m., Kennedy said.

A Malheur County sheriff’s deputy and Oregon State Police trooper responding to the reported pursuit arrived and found Johnson had been shot. He had pulled into driveway at the Nyssa home where the incident started.

Police later seized a Suburban abandoned about a block away near North Park in Nyssa.

Kennedy described an intense investigation that involved police departments in Nyssa, Ontario, Parma and Caldwell, sheriff’s departments in Malheur and Baker counties and the Canyon County Sheriff’s Office in Idaho, the Oregon State Police, the Idaho State Police, the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

On Sunday, April 16, authorities released photos of Castro, identifying him as the suspect in Johnson’s murder. Kennedy said police subsequently got “multiple tips” from “multiple sources” about Castro.

At 7:40 a.m. Monday, April 17, a perimeter was set up around a house in the 600 block of Northwest First Avenue in Ontario by the State Police SWAT team, Ontario police and FBI.

An hour later, Kennedy said, Castro emerged and tried to flee but was captured by the SWAT officers.

Goldthorpe said that other people were in the home when police arrived. He said police are investigating whether any of them were harboring Castro.

On Tuesday, Goldthorpe charged Castro with aggravated murder for “intentionally and with premeditation” killing Johnson.

Castro could face the death penalty if convicted of aggravated murder. Under Oregon law, he could also be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release or life imprisonment with no release for at least 30 years.

Goldthorpe said he would decide whether to seek the death penalty after a grand jury considers the case and likely indicts Castro.

Castro also has been charged with first-degree murder, unlawful use of a weapon, felon in possession of a firearm and fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer. All are felony crimes.

READ IT: Charging document

He appeared by video in Malheur County Circuit Court on Tuesday, April 18.

Hillsboro attorney David Rich has been appointed to represent him, according to court records. Castro is being held on $1 million bail, and is expected back in court on Friday, April 21, when he is expected to be presented with a grand jury indictment.

Castro has a record of several criminal convictions and served several years in state prison for shooting three people in Ontario in 2006.

Capt. Kyle Kennedy of the Oregon State Police opens a news conference addressing developments in the murder of Joseph Johnson, a Nyssa Police Department reserve corporal. Law enforcement leaders spoke to reporters in Ontario on Tuesday, April 18. (PAT CALDWELL/The Enterprise)
Rene Castro, 36, of Nyssa, listens to court proceedings from the Malheur County Jail on Tuesday, April 18. He has been charged with killing Joseph Johnson, a Nyssa Police Department reserve corporal. (PAT CALDWELL/The Enterprise)

Reporters Pat Caldwell and Steven Mitchell contributed reporting.

Contact Editor Les Zaitz: [email protected].


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Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email: [email protected].

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