Authorities say escaped Tenn. inmate in custody

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An inmate who escaped a Tennessee prison is a person of interest in a prison employee's murder and is now armed and risky, the Tennnessee Bureau of Investigations said Wednesday.

Curtis Watson is still on the run a day after a rare Blue Alert was issued after he escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary in Henning, Tennessee. The facility is about 60 miles from Memphis.

Debra Johnson, a penitentiary corrections administrator, was found dead in her residence on prison grounds one hour after prison officials discovered Watson was missing at 10:30 a.m. The inmate has brown eyes and a long gray beard, although officials say it may be possible that Watson could try to alter his appearance.

Watson was serving a sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping, which he was convicted of in 2013, according to the TBI.

Watson is considered extremely risky, so if you encounter him, don't engage.

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The TBI has secured warrants for Watson on charges of first-degree murder, especially aggravated burglary and aggravated sexual battery.

Over the course of her "distinguished" career, Johnson served in numerous positions including correctional sergeant, deputy warden, warden and correctional administrator, overseeing all prisons in the western region of the state, officials said.

Authorities launched a manhunt for Watson in the acres and acres of farm fields and woods surrounding the prison.

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Watson, 44, is 5-feet-11 and 140 pounds.

Director Rausch: We have Special Agents and Forensic Scientists working through the night investigating the scene.

TBI has also deployed its airplane to scour the area, said TBI spokesman Josh DeVine.

Watson was captured Sunday around 11 a.m. in Henning, Tennessee, and is back in custody, the Tennessee Department of Correction said in a release.

He fled the area in a tractor, which was found just over a mile away, along with his prison identification.

According to the state's felony offender locator, Watson wasn't due for release until May 2025.

"Make no mistake, we need Tennesseans to be vigilant", Lee said, urging anyone with tips to call authorities.

Rewards totaling $57,000 were offered for information leading to Watson's arrest.

Anyone with information is asked to contact 911 or 1-800-TBI-FIND. His prior conviction for child abuse expired in 2011, authorities said.

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