Family Seeks ‘Justice’ In Dunkirk Homicide

A sign calls for justice for Antonio Watts, who died last June in a city shooting.

DUNKIRK — One year after a shooting that claimed the life of a 36-year-old Dunkirk man, members of his family marched in his memory and to send a message in front of City Hall on Central Avenue .

On May 23, 2023, around 4:30 p.m. three shots were fired in the area of 88 Maple Ave. stemming from an argument with one round striking Antonio J. Watts. The traumatic events surrounding the incident happened while schoolchildren and neighbors spent time outside on what was considered a perfect spring day.

More than a week later, Watts died from the injuries.

While marching with signs that included pictures of Watts proclaiming, “He was only 36 … his life was taken” and “Justice for Antonio Watts,” family members remain saddened and frustrated over the lack of charges being filed in the incident.

They later took their sentiments to the entrance of the city Police Department on Fourth Street. “They need some justice,” said Marisol Mendez, whose daughter was Watts’ partner for nine years. She especially noted concern for her grandchildren. “They’re hurting more than me.”

Family members of Antonio Watts stand outside of Dunkirk City Hall, one year after the shooting that led to his death.

She and her family are not alone in their anguish. Chautauqua County District Attorney Jason Schmidt, in a statement to the OBSERVER, noted he is not giving up on the case.

“We know the cowards who committed this senseless, evil act, shooting an unarmed father who was protecting his kids,” he said. “We know who was there when it happened. But knowing what happened and who did this is altogether different from proving it in a court of law.”

Schmidt said city police and investigators in his office “fully investigated this crime to exhaustion.” He said multiple eyewitnesses, both on and off the record, gave statements.

But a fear of retribution remains that impacts the neighborhood in this case. “It is not that people do not care,” Schmidt said. “Despite all our efforts, the sad truth is that parts of the Dunkirk city community are under siege by the very worst elements of society. Many of our friends and neighbors – good people who work hard, take care of their families and pay their taxes — are too scared for their own personal safety and those of their loved ones to come forward and testify to what they saw, fearful that these cowards may come for them next.”

Without an arrest, the case is another in a list of unsolved homicides that date back to the late 1990s.

They include:

— Benjamin Gonzalez-Reyes, whose body was discovered July 1, 1998, on a hiking trail in the town of Pomfret after he had been shot execution style.

— William A. Taft Sr., who was last seen Nov. 30, 2005, in the city of Dunkirk. He was located Dec. 26 off of Williams Street in the town of Dunkirk near a pond and grape vineyard with a fatal neck injury caused by a sharp instrument.

— On Nov. 3, 2006, 38-year-old Jerry Nickerson and 52-year-old Mark Trautman, had their lives taken after someone broke into the roommates’ home on East Lake Road in the town of Dunkirk.

— Thomas B. Douglas of Buffalo died from gunshot wounds on July 17, 2011, on Arrowhead Drive, in the town of Dunkirk.

— 47-year-old Brian Heyden was found on April 21, 2018, off Route 20 in the town of Portland. An operator traveling on Route 20 located his body in a wooded area near Corell Creek.

— Around 2 a.m. July 21, 2018, Billy Hall Jr. suffered a brutal beating in the alley next to 35 Water St. in Fredonia. Family members believe he was dragged across the street where his bloodied body was found on a porch at 36 Water St. He died Aug. 5 in UPMC Hamot in Erie, Pa. Despite some suspects in the case, no one has been charged.

As far as Watts’ case is concerned, Schmidt says there are obvious suspects. “To the murderers responsible for Antonio’s death, I say to you: we know who you are; trust that we are coming; this is far from over and justice delayed is not justice denied; there’s no statute of limitations for murder and eventually you will pay for your crimes.”


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