A senior Tennessee prisons employee has been killed, and an inmate on the loose is the suspect.
Curtis Ray Watson escaped from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary on Wednesday and is still at large.
Debra Johnson lived on the grounds of the penitentiary and was found dead in her home around 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. The 38-year state employee oversaw the wardens of multiple prisons in the region, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction. She started as a correctional officer for the department in 1981 and most recently served as the West Tennessee Correctional Administrator.
Correction Commissioner Tony Parker offered his condolences at a press conference Wednesday evening.
“Rest assured that we will find this offender and bring justice to the family of Debra Johnson,” he said.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is looking into Johnson’s death. Watson is the person of interest in her killing.
Watson was missing from his job as a farm laborer at the facility during a count Wednesday, and a manhunt immediately ensued. He escaped on a tractor, which officials later located about a mile from the prison.
Watson is serving a 15-year sentence for an aggravated kidnapping and was previously convicted of aggravated child abuse.
TBI Director David Rausch said at the press conference that officials believe he is dangerous. If anyone see Watson, he said, they should call the police.
"This is a serious situation, and we ask the public to stay vigilant, stay aware," he said. "We need to get this dangerous individual into custody."
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member.