HENNING, Tenn. (WMC) - New warrants for an inmate who escaped a west Tennessee prison include first-degree murder, aggravated sexual battery and especially aggravated burglary.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation says they secured the warrants late Thursday afternoon for 44-year-old Curtis Watson. He’s the target of a manhunt that started after a prison administrator was found dead in her home a day earlier not far from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary.
TBI says Watson escaped sometime Wednesday, but it wasn’t until Debra Johnson’s body was found at her nearby home hours after missing a meeting that authorities discovered Watson was missing.
Johnson, 64, was a 38-year employee of the state of Tennessee.
Governor Bill Lee, TBI, the FBI, ATF and U.S. Marshals are collectively offering a $52,500 reward for help capturing Watson. The Tennessee Department of Correction has also chipped in $4,500. This addition brings the reward to $57,000.
“This man is considered armed and extremely dangerous,” said Lee. “And we need to find him.”
Speaking at a TBI news conference in Nashville Thursday afternoon, the governor said capturing Watson is a top priority.
“We will not rest until this offender is brought to justice,” said Tony Parker, DOC commissioner.
According to the DOC, Watson was assigned to farm duty at the prison where he was serving a 15-year sentence. A spokesperson for the department says Watson escaped on a tractor, which was found about an hour after they launched their search and less than a mile from Johnson’s home.
TBI says they don’t have a timeline of when Johnson was killed and investigators haven’t said how she died. They also don’t know if Watson is armed.
TBI records show Watson has multiple previous convictions, including especially aggravated kidnapping and aggravated child abuse.
Watson is 5 feet 11 inches tall and about 180 to 200 pounds. His latest mugshots show a beard but investigators say he may have changed his appearance; however, he cannot hide his many tattoos.
TBI released surveillance images showing Watson shortly before his escape showing the blue shirt and jeans he was wearing when he escaped.
Watson is considered extremely dangerous. TBI says they’ve received dozens of reports of sightings across Tennessee and parts of Mississippi, including in Marshall County, but so far none have been confirmed.
On Thursday, troopers checked cars driving along the highway that leads to the prison. They used ATVs and helicopters to search the woods. The area surrounding the prison is rural but not isolated with homes scattered about the area.
Residents say inmates have escaped before but it’s never been anything like this.
“When one gets out it’s really terrifying, you really keep your guards up,” said Terisa Holcomb, who lives in the area. “Everybody is toting their guns.”
Call 911 or TBI at 1-800-TBI-FIND if you see him.