A manhunt’s underway in Tennessee for an inmate who allegedly killed a longtime corrections official before escaping from prison on Wednesday.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) has identified the murdered official as West Tennessee State Penitentiary administrator Debra Johnson, 64, who worked for the Department of Corrections for 38 years. Corrections Commissioner Tony Parker said the slaying occurred at Johnson’s residence, which is located at the facility, according to WREG.
The prison was reportedly placed on lockdown following the discovery of Johnson’s body. It was then when staff conducted a count and realized that one inmate—Curtis Ray Watson—was unaccounted for, Parker said.
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BLUE ALERT: We need your help to find Curtis Ray Watson, an escapee of the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning.
Watson is also a person-of-interest in the homicide of a Tennessee Department of Correction employee today.
Call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND if you see him! pic.twitter.com/22sQJ4vDO7
— TBI (@TBInvestigation) August 7, 2019
CNN reported that Watson, 44, was working on a farm detail at the time of Johnson’s murder. He’s accused of escaping on a tractor which was later found roughly a mile from the penitentiary.
Johnson’s brief disappearance sparked a Blue Alert, which is issued when a member of law enforcement is killed, severely injured or missing. The news network noted that Wednesday’s incident was the third time the alert’s been used since its implementation in 2011.
According to WVLT, TBI officials announced on Thursday that they’ve issued a warrant for Watson on various charges, including first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary, and aggravated sexual battery. Before Thursday’s announcement, authorities hadn’t revealed that Johnson was sexually assaulted. A cause of death remains undisclosed.
Watson is a minimum custody offender who’s serving a 15-year sentence for a 2012 aggravated kidnapping conviction. At the time, police alleged he hit a woman over the head with an object and raped her multiple times.
CNN reported that he was released from prison in 2011 after serving a sentence for aggravated child abuse.
Watson shouldn’t be approached as he’s considered extremely dangerous. He was described as being 5-feet-11-inches tall; his wanted poster shows him with a bald head and a long white beard.
WVLT reported that authorities are in the process of confirming possible sightings in Marshall County.
The Covington Leader reported that state and federal agencies have offered a total of $52,500 for information leading to Watson’s arrest: $25,000 from the state of Tennessee; $2,500 from the TBI; $5,000 from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; and $10,000 each from the FBI and U.S. Marshals.
Anyone with information regarding Curtis Ray Watson’s whereabouts should call 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.
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[Featured image: Curtis Ray Watson, Debra Johnson/Tennessee Bureau of Investigation]