HENNING, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation issued a Blue Alert Wednesday for a West Tennessee prison escapee who is also a “person of interest” in the murder of a longtime Department of Correction employee.
According to the TBI, 44-year-old Curtis Ray Watson was discovered missing earlier in the day from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary during the investigation into the death of 64-year-old Debra Johnson, the West Tennessee Correctional Administrator.
Investigators said Johnson was found dead around 11:30 a.m. inside of her residence on the grounds of the penitentiary. Foul play was suspected in her death.
The facility was placed on lockdown and an inmate count was conducted. Watson was found to be missing from a work detail and had reportedly left the property on a tractor, the TBI revealed.
Watson was serving a 15-year sentence on a conviction of especially aggravated kidnapping in Henry County. His sentence was set to expire in 2025.
He was previously convicted of aggravated child abuse in Carroll County. That sentence expired in 2011.
Watson has family in Henry County, according to Sheriff Monte Belew. He said his agency is working with state and federal authorities, and there is an increased law enforcement presence in the county.
The sheriff is urging residents to have heightened awareness and use extra caution.
Authorities in Marshall County, Tennessee received a tip Thursday morning Watson could be in the area. Marshall County Schools were placed on soft lockdown out of caution but have since returned to normal operating procedures.
The TBI reported there have been no confirmed sightings of Watson since his escape.
Anyone with information is urged to contact 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND.