Tennessee inmate escapes from prison where a top official was found dead

Officials doing a count during a lockdown could not find Curtis Ray Watson, who worked on a farm detail.

(CNN)Authorities in western Tennessee are searching for a inmate who escaped Wednesday, the day a longtime corrections official was found dead in her home on the grounds of the prison.

Officials discovered the body of Debra Johnson, a employee of 38 years who oversaw the facilities in the western part of the state, Wednesday morning about 11:30. They believe Johnson, 64, was the victim of a homicide. A Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokesman said Thursday that escaped inmate Curtis Ray Watson is a suspect in Johnson's death.
Watson, who was serving a 15-year sentence for especially aggravated kidnapping, was discovered missing when officials put the facility on lockdown and conducted a check of inmates.
The total reward for information leading to his capture and arrest is $32,500, according to the TBI.
    "Today we lost a very beloved and respected member of our TDOC family," the Tennessee Department of Corrections said in a statement. "We are extremely saddened by this tragic loss and committed to working with our law enforcement in bringing the person responsible to justice."
    TBI Director David Rausch said at a Thursday afternoon news conference that, although the bureau has received 75 alleged sightings of Watson from the public, none have been "credible" so far. The bureau is not only involved in the search for the escapee but also conducting the investigation of Johnson's death, in which Watson is a suspect, he said.
    TBI released two of Curtis Watson's previous mug shots in case he altered the appearance of his facial hair after his escape.
    The TBI added Watson to its Most Wanted list and tweeted pictures of his tattoos and his face. Later, the bureau added two additional mug shots of Watson "in case he altered the appearance of his facial hair after his escape yesterday."
    Rausch asked those who live in West Tennessee to check their property for anything that looks out of place as well as to check outbuildings, crawl spaces and dog houses -- anywhere someone could hide. Those with trail or property surveillance cameras should check those. And, while the suspect remains at large, checking on neighbors would also be helpful. "He could be anywhere," said Rausch.