Remembering Pauly Likens , 14-Year-Old Transgender Girl Killed In Pennsylvania

by Jose Soto

Pauly Likens, a 14-year-old transgender girl, was “a bright and loving individual, cherished by all who knew them,” according to a GoFundMe page. In Pauly’s obituary, it is said that she “lit up every room she entered, always making people smile and passing around her contagious laughter.” She loved music, Fortnite and Roblox. In aninterview with CNN, Pamela Ladner, president of LGBTQIA+ Alliance Shenango Valley, said that Pauly was “a selfless, loving child who loved nature, getting her nails done, and shopping.” In the CNN article, Ladner continued to say that Pauly “aspired to be a park ranger like her Aunt Liz.”

Pauly was found dead in Sharon, Pennsylvania on June 25, 2024, marking the at least 19th violent killing of a transgender or gender expansive person, and at least the fourth killing of a trans or gender expansive teenager, since the beginning of 2024. Pauly is also at least the second trans or gender expansive person killed during Pride month, with her death occurring in the same week as that of trans woman Liara Tsai, a DJ and trans activist in Minneapolis. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. The Human Rights Campaign is deeply saddened to report on Pauly’s passing.

Learning about Pauly’s gruesome death is not only disheartening and saddening, but disturbing and infuriating. Pauly deserved to live out each of her dreams and enjoy a full life. She deserved a reality where she and all LGBTQ+ youth are supported and protected, and while we’ve made great strides, her death is a reminder that there is still so much work to do to ensure a safer and kinder future for all of our young people. We fight on in her honor."

Tori Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative

Pauly was last seen on June 23 at the Budd Street Public Park in Morristown, NJ. Two days later, on June 25, Pauly was reported missing. That same day, Pauly’s dismembered body was found in the Shenango River Lake, a reservoir in western Pennsylvania, as confirmed by the Mercer County Coroner’s Office and Pennsylvania State Police.

In a news article, Peter C. Acker, the district attorney for Mercer County District, called the homicide “one of the most heinous crimes I’ve seen in 46 years of being a lawyer.”

On June 23, the day of her disappearance, Pauly had been at a friend’s house and walked home at around 9 p.m., according to a news report. Later that night, a recorded video shows Pauly at the Budd Street Public Park at around 3:00 a.m. Cell towers last communicated with Pauly’s cell phone in the area at around 3:40 before the service was cut.

Police detained and arrested DaShawn Watkins on July 2 in connection to Pauly’s death, and he has been charged with first-degree murder. Police linked Watkins to Pauly’s death by using video surveillance and cell phone records. Watkins also told authorities that he recently met with someone he had met on Grindr, who police states matched Pauly’s description, though Watkins claimed his memory was “poor” when asked about where they met or where they had gone. However, according to court documents, videos obtained from local businesses show Watkins’ car traveling to and from the Budd Street Public Park area at the same time as Pauly’s cell phone service ceased.

At the state level, transgender and gender-expansive people in Pennsylvania are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces; however, the state Human Relations Commission accepts complaints of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in these areas. Pennsylvania also does not include sexual orientation and / or gender identity as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law. Though we have recently seen some political gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced unprecedented anti-LGBTQ+ attacks in the states. In June 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans, as a result of the more than 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into state houses that year, over 80 of which were signed into law—more than in any other year. As of this writing, over 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced into state houses since the beginning of 2024, with over 30 bills passing to-date.

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality. It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, especially Black transgender women. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive, so we must all work together to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma for everyone in the trans and gender-expansive community.

More resources:

  • Learn more about the fatal violence cases that HRC is tracking where details are unclear. You may find a list of these cases here.

  • Join HRC's Count Me In campaign to take action for transgender and non-binary people.

  • Read these guidelines and this FAQ for journalists to ensure greater accuracy and respect in reporting.

  • Learn about how transgender and non-binary people are combating transphobia, stigma and anti-trans violence through our Celebrating Changemakers series.