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Suspect charged in gruesome murder and dismemberment of Pennsylvania transgender teen

Suspect charged in gruesome murder and dismemberment of Pennsylvania transgender teen

Suspect charged in gruesome murder and dismemberment of Pennsylvania transgender teen

By Nicole Chavez and Amanda Musa, CNN

(CNN) — A suspect faces murder and other charges after the remains of a transgender teenager who had been missing in Pennsylvania since late June were found in a lake, according to a criminal complaint.

Dashawn Watkins, 29, has been charged with first-degree murder, aggravated assault, abuse of a corpse and tampering with evidence in connection with the death of Pauly Likens, 14, of Sharon, Pennsylvania, police said in a complaint filed in Mercer County District Court.

CNN has reached out to Watkins’ attorney for comment but has not yet received a response. If convicted, Watkins could face the death penalty or life in prison, under Pennsylvania state law.

Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker told CNN that at this time investigators have not found any evidence to suggest Pauly’s killing was a hate crime.

However, investigators are not ruling out that possibility either, and if anyone has evidence to suggest this was a hate crime, he said, authorities will look into it.

Pauly’s relatives had been searching for the teen for several days when police began finding dismembered human remains in and around Shenango River Lake in Mercer County, according to the criminal complaint. Mercer County Coroner John A. Libonati said in a July 3 statement that the remains belonged to Likens.

The cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma to the head and the manner of conduct was ruled homicide, Libonati said.

Pamela Ladner, president of the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance, who spoke on behalf of the teen’s family, told CNN that Pauly “was a selfless, loving girl who loved nature, getting her nails done and shopping.”

“She aspired to be a park ranger like her Aunt Liz,” Ladner said. “Our community is mourning with Pauly’s family over this tragic loss of a young life. We hope justice is served.”

Police said in the complaint that Pauly was last seen walking home on June 22, after leaving a friend’s house. In the early hours of June 23, the teen posted on Snapchat that she had gone for a late-night walk. She initially responded when her friend asked if she was OK, but did not respond to subsequent messages, according to the complaint.

Surveillance video footage from nearby businesses and homes showed a person who appeared to be Pauly walking near a canoe launch along the Shenango River in Sharon, as well as a vehicle arriving and leaving the area around the same time on June 23, according to the complaint.

Police said Watkins, the suspect, was seen on video leaving a nearby apartment complex with a large duffel bag that appeared empty and returning about 20 to 25 minutes later with the bag looking “heavy and strange,” the complaint says. The video shows a vehicle leaving the apartment complex, arriving at the canoe launch area and returning to the complex during the same time period, the complaint says..

The footage shows Watkins struggling to carry the duffle bag and placing it on the floor of a hallway in the building, and then again before entering an apartment, according to the complaint. He is also seen arriving at the apartment later that day with a shopping bag and leaving with several bags and trash bags the next day. When officers went to the building, they saw what appeared to be blood stains in the places where Watkins left the bag on the floor, according to the complaint.

When police arrested Watkins on July 2, he told authorities he had recently met with a person he had met on Grindr who police said matched Pauly’s description, according to the complaint. Watkins claimed his memory was poor when asked where they had met or where he had gone, according to the complaint.

He said the person did not go to his apartment and said he brought a large wheeled suitcase that he had left in his car from a recent vacation, according to the complaint. When police searched Watkins’ apartment, they found traces of blood, a saw and a receipt for the tool’s purchase, according to the complaint.

A candlelight vigil will be held Saturday in Sharon for Pauly. The teenager is remembered for her willingness to help others, her love of animals and her “infectious laugh,” according to her obituary.

“Pauly lit up every room she walked into, always making people smile and spreading her laughter. Pauly was a selfless person, never missing an opportunity to help others and give back what she could. Even as a child, she would donate her spare change to the veterans stand outside Walmart,” her obituary reads. “A sassy little girl, Pauly loved giving her family a hard time, telling jokes and enjoying every moment with her family.”

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