Suspect charged in gruesome murder and dismemberment of Pennsylvania transgender teen

A suspect is facing murder and other charges after the remains of a transgender teen 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 14-year-old Pauly Likens 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, according to Pennsylvania state law.

Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker told CNN at this point investigators have not found any evidence that suggests Likens’ murder was a hate crime.

However, investigators are also not ruling out the possibility, and if anyone has evidence that would suggest this is a hate crime, he said, authorities will investigate it.

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

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

Pamela Ladner, president of LGBTQIA+ Alliance Shenango Valley who spoke on behalf of the teen’s family, told CNN Likens “was a selfless, loving child 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 at this tragic loss of young life. We are hoping justice is served.”

Likens was last seen walking home on June 22 after leaving a friend’s house, police said in the complaint. In the early hours of June 23, the teenager posted on Snapchat that she had gone on a late-night walk. She replied initially when her friend asked if she was OK but did not reply to further messages, the complaint said.

Video surveillance from nearby businesses and homes showed a person that appeared to be Likens 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 in video footage 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 awkward,” the complaint says. Video shows a vehicle leaving the apartment complex, arriving to the canoe launch area and returning to the complex during the same time frame, the complaint states.

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, the complaint said. He’s also seen coming to the apartment later that day with a shopping bag and leaving with multiple bags and garbage bags the next day. When officers went to the building, they saw what appeared to be blood stains in the places where Watkins rested the bag on the floor, the complaint said.

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

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

A candlelight vigil for Likens will be held in Sharon on Saturday. The teenager is being remembered for her will to help others, her love of animals and her “contagious laughter,” according to her obituary.

“Pauly lit up every room she entered, always making people smile and passing around her contagious laughter. Pauly was a selfless person, never missing a chance to help others and give what she could. Even as a young child, she donated her spare change to the veterans’ stand outside Walmart,” her obituary reads. “A sassy kid, Pauly loved to give her family a hard time, cracking jokes and loving every moment with her family.”

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