Nyssa reserve officer killed in Saturday shooting, gunman being sought

UPDATE Noon Sunday, April 16: This story includes more details about the shooting and photos of the suspect and the police officer.

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 in the area 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.

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 stopped a short distance from the house and “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.

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. He joined the Nyssa agency as a reserve officer on Aug. 13, 2018. Last December, he was given the agency’s Outstanding Performance Award.

Joseph Johnson, center, receives the Outstanding Performance Award from the Nyssa Police Department, where he was a reserve officer. It was presented by Chief Don Ballou and City Manager Jim Maret. (Nyssa Police Department)

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-

Les Zaitz is editor of Salem Reporter and also serves as editor and publisher of the Malheur Enterprise in Vale, Oregon.