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Illegal migrant from Venezuela allegedly shot NYPD officers at ‘point-blank range,’ ordered held without bail

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The illegal immigrant accused of shooting two New York City Police Department officers in Queens was arraigned on attempted murder and other charges on Wednesday, as prosecutors outlined how the suspect allegedly opened fire at “point-blank range” during a struggle on the ground. 

Bernardo Raul Castro Mata, 19, appeared remotely from his hospital bed to be arraigned in Queens Criminal Court in connection to the shooting of officers Richard Yarusso and Christopher Abreu. 

Judge Jeffrey Gershuny ordered Castro Mato, who is recovering from a gunshot wound to the ankle, held without bail on charges of attempted murder, assault, criminal possession of a weapon, resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration, the New York Daily News reported. More than 50 police officers attended the hearing in person to show support for Yarusso and Abreu. 

Queens Assistant District Attorney Lauren Reilly said Castro Mata was the “very definition of a flight risk,” given he was “fleeing from uniformed police officers before shooting two police officers.” 

Authorities said Yarusso and Abreu were investigating a robbery pattern involving thieves on mopeds and scooters when they spotted Castro Mata on a scooter without a helmet riding the wrong way on 82nd St. near 23rd Ave. in East Elmhurst around 1:40 a.m. Monday. In court Wednesday, prosecutors said Castro Mata was riding an “unregistered motorcycle,” the Daily News reported. 

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When the officers attempted to pull the migrant over, he fled on foot. One officer ran after him on foot, while the other followed in the police cruiser. The officers soon tackled Castro Mata to the ground.

Bernardo Castro Mata, 19, appears in Queens Criminal Court on Wednesday, June 5, 2024, on attempted murder and other charges for allegedly shooting New York Police Department officers Christopher Abreu and Richard Yarusso. (Barry Williams/New York Daily News/Pool/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

“During the struggle, [Castro Mata] reached inside a crossbody bag that was across his chest, removed the firearm, put the gun against Officer Yarusso’s chest and shot Officer Yarusso in the lower middle portion of his chest at point blank range,” Reilly said, according to Daily News. “The defendant then shot Officer Abreu straight in the upper right thigh area.”

Gershuny ordered that Castro Mata be sent to Rikers Island once he is released from the hospital. 

“Trying to avoid a traffic stop using violence by any means necessary to get away leaves this court with no doubt whatsoever that he would flee with any means possible,” the judge said.

Police said Yarusso was wearing a bullet-resistant vest, which saved his life. Both officers were treated at Elmhurst Hospital, and Yarusso pushed Abreu out in a wheelchair when they were both released hours after the shooting. Police returned fire during the struggle, and Castro Mata was shot in the ankle. He was taken to New York-Presbyterian Hospital Queens for treatment.

nyc pba president outside the courthouse

New York City Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Hendry addressed the media outside the Queens courthouse after Castro Mata’s arraignment. (NYC PBA )

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“That night they both confronted a brazen, violent individual who wasn’t afraid to carry a gun and shoot two New York City police officers at point blank range,” New York City Police Benevolent Association President Patrick Hendry said at a press conference outside the courthouse. 

“The skill, the grit of these two police officers was the reason they not only survived, they were able to stop that individual from hurting anyone else. Today, this court sent a message that they’re going to support these police officers who put their lives on the line every single day, just like these police officers and every New York City police officer out their lives on the line to protect New Yorkers,” Hendry, surrounded by dozens of officers, said. “But this message needs to be consistent: That if you attack a police officer, in every borough, in every courthouse across this city, they will be prosecuted. And those who are responsible for our public safety, owe it to every single New Yorker, every single police officer that they’re going to have a system in place that protects us all.” 

NYPD officer wheeled from hospital with family

Officer Richard Yarusso, who was shot in the chest and saved by his vest, wheeled his partner, officer Christopher Abreu, who was shot in the leg, out of Elmhurst Hospital to the applause of NYPD brass and officers on Monday, June 3, 2024. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

Police said Castro Mata entered the country illegally last July near El Paso, Texas, and was staying at a former airport hotel-turned migrant shelter in the Elmhurst section of Queens. Citing sources, the New York Post reported that Castro Mata has a tattoo that signals to investigators he could be a member of Venezuela’s “bloodthirsty” Tren de Aragua gang.

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Prosecutors noted in court Wednesday that Mastro Mata’s .380-caliber pistol was recovered from the scene. It had two bullets left, one in the chamber and one in the magazine. 

Castro Mata was found in possession of multiple credit cards, two of which were connected to gunpoint robberies in the Bronx carried out by thieves on scooters at the time of his arrest. He had been suspected in a string of robberies and a May 30 incident in which investigators believe he pulled a gun on a security guard at a Lot Less store in Queens and fled by scooter.  

After the shooting, police conducted a massive crackdown on illegal vehicles Tuesday night, seizing 72 illegal ATVs, motorbikes and mopeds as well as three vehicles during the operation. 

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