Authorities in western Mississippi launched a massive search Wednesday for a man charged with capital murder who escaped from a county jail.

Rafael McCloud, 33, escaped from the Warren County jail early Wednesday wearing a jail employee uniform, Vicksburg law enforcement authorities said. He faces capital murder and rape charges and is considered armed and dangerous.

Vicksburg police Chief Walter Armstrong is warning residents to take guns inside from vehicles and make sure their homes haven't been broken into when they return.

Schools in the area were locked down and after-school activities were cancelled as the search continued into the evening.

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace says McCloud briefly took a jail employee hostage and forced the hostage to give McCloud his clothes. McCloud also took a radio and keys, Pace said, but both items were recovered later on the grounds of the jail.

McCloud is charged with capital murder, sexual battery, rape, arson, home invasion, being a felon in possession of a firearm and grand larceny auto theft, records show.

He is accused in the kidnapping and death of Sharen Wilson, 69, whose body was found in July behind the abandoned Kuhn Memorial State Hospital in Vicksburg, authorities said. Wilson had been hit in the head and beaten, investigators said.

Murder Suspect Escapes

Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace talks with an MBI agent during a search in a Vicksburg, Miss., neighbourhood for McCloud. Up to 30 officers are involved in the search. (Justin Sellers/The Clarion-Ledger/Associated Press)

Dianne Mahony, one of Wilson's daughters, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she was aware of the escape but declined to comment.

Armstrong said between 25 and 30 officers are involved in the search, along with multiple units from the sheriff's department. The search is centered about a kilometre northeast of the jail, which is in Vicksburg.

"The search is concentrated along Martin Luther King Boulevard where he previously lived," Armstrong said.

A handful of Vicksburg-Warren schools in the search area were on lockdown.

School Superintendent Chad Shealy said three junior high schools, the Academy of Innovation, Vicksburg High School and Warren Central High School, as well as Bowmar Elementary School were placed on a lockdown. A Catholic school also took precautions.

McCloud is described as 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighing 170 pounds. He was last seen wearing green pants and a black jacket.