Los Angeles, CA – On Wednesday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he has approved an additional $50,000 in reward money for information that leads to the killer of 16-year-old Tioni Theus. Combined with the $50,000 offered by the LA City Council, $10,000 offered by Los Angeles County, and $5,000 provided by community nonprofit Operation Hope, the total reward money now amounts to $115,000.
Tioni was last seen on Jan. 7, when she left her home in Compton, telling her dad she was meeting an “Instagram friend” to go to a party. Her body was found on the side of the 110 Freeway the next day. The coroner’s office revealed she died from a gunshot wound to the neck before her body was dumped near the Manchester off-ramp on the freeway. The location of her death, and the person or people who killed her, are not yet known.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón, said court records indicate the teen was identified as a CSEC, or commercial sexual exploitation of children, victim.
“There is evidence indicating that this young girl may have been the victim of human trafficking,” Gascón said, “and this speaks to why we need to do more for survivors of human trafficking, especially children who are exceptionally vulnerable.”
Prior to her funeral services, her family and community leaders held a news conference.
“She was a 16-year-old child. She was not a prostitute. She was a victim of human trafficking and no child can be labeled a prostitute. These children are victims,” said community activist Najee Ali. “The family did not fail Tioni. We failed. The community failed to protect her as a village.
Family members described her as a “vibrant young lady that was just cut from so much that was ahead of her”, adding that she was a straight-A student who enjoyed dancing and golf.
At the press conference on Wednesday, California Highway Patrol Capt. Jeff Lofton asked that anyone with information that could help find Tioni’s killers step forward.
“If you’re from the community here and you have cameras in your vehicle and you were driving along the route, along the 110 Freeway that morning, please look at your video,” Lofton said. “If you find something at Manchester and the 110, call investigators.”
On Thursday, the CHP posted photos of Tioni on Twitter and asked for anyone with information about her killing to call the agency at 323-644-9557.