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Numerous tips come in on inmate who escaped from Tennessee prison on a tractor

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Posted at 8:45 AM, Aug 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-08-11 12:45:36-04

(CNN) -- The search for an inmate who escaped from a prison in Tennessee entered its fifth day Sunday as panicked residents wondered whether he's still in the area and authorities received hundreds of tips.

Curtis Ray Watson escaped Wednesday from the West Tennessee State Penitentiary while on mowing work detail. He was seen at the home of corrections official Debra Johnson three hours before her body was discovered there, investigators said.

Local residents have watched as law enforcement officials and K-9 units have descended on the area searching for him.

"It scares you. I mean, you don't know where he's gonna turn up or what else he's gonna do," Debbie White, who lives a few miles from the prison, told CNN affiliate WREG. "If he did what he did to get out, then to me he's a desperate man on the run."

A suspect in woman's death

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has said he's a suspect in the death of Johnson, a longtime corrections official who was found dead in her home on the prison grounds.

Her co-workers discovered her body about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday after she didn't report to work. Hours earlier, at 8:30 a.m., corrections officers saw Watson on a facility golf cart at her home, the TBI said.

Authorities believe Johnson, 64, was killed and Watson is a suspect in her death.

369 tips and zero credible sightings

Watson was serving a 15-year sentence for aggravated kidnapping. He was discovered missing about 11 a.m. Wednesday, when officials conducted a check of inmates.

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

The TBI said it has received 369 tips and zero credible sightings of him by late Saturday, and is offering a reward of $57,000. It's warned people in the immediate prison area to be on the lookout and double-check their property, crawl spaces and dog houses -- anywhere someone could hide. Those with trail or property surveillance cameras should check those too, officials said.

The TBI added Watson to its Most Wanted list. It tweeted pictures of his tattoos and his face, and additional mug shots in case he changed "the appearance of his facial hair after his escape."

Investigators issue a blue alert

Tennessee officials have issued a blue alert -- only the third since the designation's inception in 2011. It's done when a law enforcement officer is killed, sustains life-threatening injuries or is missing.

The West Tennessee State Penitentiary is in Henning, about 45 miles northeast of Memphis.

This is Watson's second prison stint. He previously was in prison for aggravated child abuse and was released in 2011. He returned to prison in 2013.

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