LGBTQ+ community in northwestern Pennsylvania mourns murder of transgender teen

Pauly A. Likens Jr., 14, a transgender woman from Sharon, was murdered and dismembered in Mercer County, state police said in an arrest that rattled the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance.


  • A missing person report and the discovery of human remains in late June prompted an investigation into the death of 14-year-old Pauly A. Likens Jr. of Sharon.
  • State police have charged a 29-year-old Sharon resident with the murder of the victim, who the suspect allegedly met through the Grindr app
  • Pauly was a transgender woman, says Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance, which supports Pauly’s family

SHARON, Pa. — On June 1, at the start of Pride Month, the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance moved into its own office space in Sharon after three years of running its support groups from multiple locations.

The alliance, founded three years ago, finally had a more permanent presence to advocate for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and queer community in Mercer County.

The murder and mutilation of a 14-year-old transgender Sharon resident has shown the alliance how desperately its support is needed. It has mobilized the alliance in its support of the family and friends of the victim, Pauly A. Likens Jr., a transgender woman.

“I think the alarm bells have gone off,” Pam Ladner, president of the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance, told the Erie Times-News of Pauly’s death. “For something like this to happen, just as we’re getting started, is devastating.”

Pennsylvania State Police on Wednesday charged a 29-year-old Sharon man, DaShawn Watkins, with first-degree murder, abuse of a corpse, aggravated assault and tampering with evidence in the death of Pauly, who police say was killed on June 23.

Among the allegations is that Watkins killed Pauly after the two met on Grindr, the popular LGBTQ dating app, according to arrest records. Pauly’s dismembered remains were found scattered in the Shenango River Lake area of ​​Mercer County beginning on June 25. Police used cellphone records, surveillance footage and blood found in Watkins’ apartment to charge him, according to arrest records.

LGBTQ+ group organizes candlelight vigil

The death has prompted an outpouring of support for Pauly’s family and the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance, Ladner said.

“There are a lot of people showing their support and making sure she gets the recognition and justice she deserves,” Ladner said.

Ladner said the alliance did not know Pauly before the killing, but she said she spoke to Pauly’s family after the death to offer support. The family gave the alliance permission to identify Pauly as a transgender woman who used the pronouns she/her, Ladner said. The family could not immediately be reached for comment.

Ladner said LGBTQ+ organizations in Erie, north of Mercer County, and Pittsburgh, to the south, are among the groups that have joined the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance to show solidarity and offer help organizing efforts to remember Pauly.

“Our thoughts are with this family and our community,” the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance posted on its Facebook page. “Absolutely heartbreaking and disturbing.”

The alliance has planned a candlelight vigil in Pauly’s honor for July 13 at 7 p.m. at the alliance office, at 87 Stambaugh Ave. in Sharon.

“Let us support our community during this tragic time and let Pauly’s family know we stand with them and are with them in their grief,” the alliance said of the event on its Facebook page, which is also intended for the Shenango Valley Pride Picnic.

“The outpouring of support from our community for Pauly and her family has been immense,” another post said. “Thank you to everyone who has reached out to help or share information, we are all grateful.”

Others set up a GoFundMe account to help Pauly’s family, and as of Friday evening, nearly $20,000 had been raised.

Missing person report triggers murder investigation

Watkins, the suspect, is being held without bail in Mercer County Prison on a charge of first-degree murder. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for July 17 before Sharon District Judge Travis Martwinski.

The investigation into Pauly’s disappearance and murder began on June 25, when the 14-year-old’s father reported to Sharon police that he had not seen Pauly since June 22, according to the sworn statement included in Watkins’ criminal complaint.

Also on June 25, police in Hermitage, near Sharon, found human remains in the area of ​​Shenango River Lake, including in the Golden Run Wildlife Area, northeast of Sharon, according to an affidavit. The remains were found fully and partially in the water, and more remains were discovered throughout the week.

The Mercer County coroner’s office identified the remains as Pauly’s. The office ruled the cause of death a homicide due to “sharp force trauma to the head.” Police said in the affidavit that the mutilation was done “with some type of cutting instrument.”

Police put together a timeline using video surveillance from businesses and homes and cellphone records. Investigators determined that before Pauly’s cellphone went inactive in the early morning of June 23, he was last known to be at the Shenango River canoe launch at the Budd Street overpass in Sharon, the affidavit said.

Police used video surveillance to discover that a car was at the canoe ramp at the same time before driving toward the Riverwalk Apartments, just north of the canoe ramp, the statement said.

Surveillance footage from the apartment complex showed a man, later identified as Watkins, leaving the apartment complex with an empty gym bag and returning about 25 minutes later in the early morning hours of June 23 with a heavy gym bag, the affidavit said. The evidence, police said in the affidavit, “indicates that Watkins took this gym bag to make initial contact with the victim.”

On June 23 and in the early morning of June 24, Watkins is seen on video leaving the apartment complex and returning “with multiple bags and garbage bags,” the affidavit states. Watkins is also seen, according to the affidavit, trying to clean blood in the hallway of the apartment complex, where he had previously placed the heavy gym bag.

Police: Suspect says he used Grindr to meet someone

State police interviewed Watkins on July 1. According to the affidavit, Watkins told police “that he had recently, over the weekend, used the Grindr app to arrange a meeting with an individual. The individual was reportedly unknown to Watkins at the time and was described as resembling the victim.”

Watkins told police, according to the affidavit, “that he had sexual contact” with the person at a location where he had driven to and the other person had walked. Police said Watkins denied being at the canoe launch but “later advised that it was possible that his vehicle entered the canoe launch, but advised that his memory was poor, he was having trouble with it,” the affidavit said.

Police said in their statement that Watkins denied taking the person he met back to his apartment. Watkins stated that he only took an empty bag back to his apartment because it was left in his car a month ago after a vacation.

Police said they saw two lacerations on Watkins’ hand that required stitches. Police said Watkins told them he “cut his hand on a piece of sheet metal while searching for reptiles,” the affidavit said.

Police searched Watkins’ apartment. They found blood in the bathroom and under the bathroom floor, according to the affidavit. It also states: “A receipt dated 6/23/24 was located indicating the purchase of a saw. A saw with interchangeable blades, matching the saw listed on the receipt, was recovered at the scene. One of the interchangeable blades for this saw was missing.”

The death of a teenager with far-reaching consequences

At the Shenango Valley LGBTQIA+ Alliance, Pam Ladner reflected on Pauly’s death as she prepared for the vigil and answered questions. The death, she said, “has impacted our entire community.”

Ladner also reflected on what drove her to start the alliance three years ago and work so hard to find a permanent home. The alliance, she said, was born out of her family’s need for support regarding LGBTQ+ issues.

“Our area in Mercer County didn’t really have a lot of advocacy or visibility” for the LGBTQ+ community, Ladner said. “We knew how isolated and lonely they felt.”

Contributor Jim Martin contributed to this report.

Contact Ed Palattella at [email protected] or 814-870-1813. Follow him on X @ETNpalattella.