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A transgender 14-year-old was dismembered in Pennsylvania. A suspect is in custody

Pauly Likens Missing person poster Sharon PA PD
poster via Sharon Police Dept.

A small Pennsylvania town responds with an outpouring of support for the family of Pauly A. Likens over the gruesome killing.

Editor's note: This article contains graphic descriptions of violence that some readers may find upsetting.

A Pennsylvania man has been arrested and charged in the gruesome murder of a 14-year-old transgender girl, Pauly A. Likens, who was dismembered and whose remains were found scattered in a lake in Clark, Pa., in the northwestern part of the state, according to official documents obtained by The Advocate. The local community has scheduled a vigil in her honor for Friday.

DaShawn Watkins, 29, was arrested last Tuesday and charged the following day with the murder of Likens, who was last seen alive in person June 22. Watkins is charged with murder in the first degree, aggravated assault – attempts to cause serious bodily injury or causes injury with extreme indifference, abuse of a corpse, and tampering with/fabricating physical evidence. Watkins is being held without bail at the Mercer County Jail.

“This is one of the worst homicide cases I’ve seen in my 46 years as a lawyer,” Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker said, according to TransVitae. “We’ve had dismemberment cases before, but this is especially bad. I hope I never see another one of these.”

Taylor Galaska, a City Council member in the town of Sharon, described Likens’s murder as “deeply troubling and incredibly heartbreaking,” the Tribune Review reports.

“I think I can speak for everyone when I say that our community is outraged by the murder,” Galaska said. “I have full faith in local and state investigators and the legal system that a thorough investigation and prosecution of this senseless, heinous act will occur.”

An autopsy found Likens died from sharp force trauma to the head and determined her death was a homicide, John A. Libonati, the Mercer County coroner, said in a release provided to The Advocate.

According to the affidavit of probable cause obtained by The Advocate, Likens was staying with a friend who told police the teen left between 9 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. to walk to her home. It was the last time anyone saw her alive.

Likens posted a picture of a dark and deserted road around 2:30 a.m. June 23, saying she was on a late-night walk to clear her mind. Her friend inquired if she was OK, to which she replied in the affirmative. This was Likens's last known communication despite further messages from her friend.

Video footage captured a person believed to be Likens pacing back and forth and looking at her phone as if waiting to meet someone at the canoe launch on the Shenango River Reservoir in Budd Street Public Park.

Around this time, Watkins left his apartment and drove to the canoe launch. Police say his vehicle was seen leaving the area around the same time that Likens's phone was turned off at 3:40 a.m. Watkins returned to his home and was captured on video struggling to move a large duffel bag into his residence, leaving a trail of blood, according to police.

Later the same day, Watkins reportedly purchased a power saw with exchangeable blades and was seen returning to his apartment with a large shopping bag. The saw was later recovered by police with one blade missing. Watkins was then observed on video repeatedly leaving the residence with a series of smaller bags. Police believe he took those bags to the Shenango River Reservoir, where he dumped parts of the 14-year-old's body.

Police quickly identified Watkins as the prime suspect in the case. They detained him as he returned to his residence Tuesday. Police noted a bandaged cut on his hand at the time of his arrest.

Watkins told police he had met someone matching Likens’s description on Grindr and admitted hooking up with this person in the general area. He denied stopping at the canoe launch but did say he might have driven past it as he tried to find his date. He also denied his date returned with him to his apartment.

He further claimed he cut his hand on a piece of sheet metal at work while searching for reptiles.

A search of his apartment complex found a trail of blood traces leading to his residence and more where he placed the duffel bag in his apartment, including the bathroom and under the bathroom tile. Video captured Watkins attempting to clean the sidewalk leading to his apartment.

Galaska mourned the loss of Likens but said the murder is a reminder to the rest of the community.

“Pauly’s life was taken far too soon, a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals,” Galaska said. “This senseless act of violence underscores the urgent need for greater acceptance, understanding, and protection of all people, no matter how different they may be from you.”

Likens is at least the 18th trans person to die by violence in the U.S. this year.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help the family pay for funeral expenses. It has currently raised over $22,000 against a goal of $15,000.

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