NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — It was just after 11 a.m. Sunday morning when Debra Johnson’s family heard the man wanted for her murder had been captured.
“I was just relieved and I thank the Lord, I thank the Lord that he has been caught,” her mother, Annie Porter, said.
“All four of us were together getting her clothes prepared for the burial and for the funeral,” Johnson’s daughter, Shernay Johnson said, “And so just to be together, be with family and to know that he’s been captured, it was a relief.”
Authorities discovered the 64-year-old’s body inside her home on the West Tennessee State Penitentiary grounds Wednesday. Johnson oversaw the wardens of regional prisons and had worked for the department of corrections for 38 years.
“She was good to everyone,” Johnson’s son Mychal Austin said, “She just wanted everyone to have a fair shot at life. That she saw that again that inmates always didn’t get their fair share, so she wanted to make sure inmates got their fair shake. Not give them the opportunity, but set the stage for them to have the opportunity to be rehabilitated.”
Authorities charged 44-year-old Curtis Watson of sexually assaulting and strangling Johnson before escaping the prison on a tractor while on lawn mowing duties.
“We couldn’t turn the lights off because we didn’t know where he was, we didn’t know if he took her cell phone, we didn’t know if he knew our addresses, we didn’t know if she was targeted,” Shernay Johnson said, “We just couldn’t sleep with the lights off.”
After a five day search, Watson was caught on Caroline Street about ten miles from the prison. Krissy Hurdle called 9-1-1 while a TDOC worker held him at gunpoint.
“Probably wasn’t much I could do, but I was just closing in on him with the TDOC worker just trying to make sure you know that he didn’t try to make sure or run or do anything,” Hurdle told News 2, “We got him, you know.. we got him and we just need somebody to come get him. I was happy to be a part of it.”
The Johnson family was able to speak with Hurdle Sunday afternoon.
“It may not mean much to you, but it’s everything to us,” Shernay Johnson told Hurdle.
“We’re just so thankful for you, thank you for bringing him in alive,” Johnson’s sister added.
While they’re grateful for his capture, they still have a lot of questions.
“It just didn’t make any sense. You could’ve went ahead and escaped if that’s what you wanted to do. But why did you target my mother, why was it a priority for you to go there,” Austin said, “Why did you do what you did to her. Why.. that would be my question, just why?”
The family says they are now putting their faith in the justice system, hoping to one day get their answers.