One day after a reward fund swelled in hopes of generating tips leading to the killer of Tioni Theus, funeral services were held Thursday for the 16-year-old girl who was shot and left alongside a South Los Angeles freeway.
Tioni’s body was discovered Jan. 8 on the side of the 110 Freeway on the Manchester Avenue onramp near South Figueroa Street. Tioni was last seen Jan. 7 after telling a family member she was going to meet a friend to go to a party, officials said.
The state on Wednesday added $50,000 to a growing reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the teen’s death. The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $10,000 reward in the case. Los Angeles City Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price have introduced a motion for the city to offer an additional $50,000.
A number of elected officials, including Dist. Atty. George Gascón, held a news conference Wednesday to appeal to the public in tracking down the girl’s killer or killers.
The district attorney said there is evidence indicating that “this young girl may have been the victim of human trafficking,” noting that the investigation into her death is ongoing.
“We need the public’s help,” Gascón said. “Please help bring Tioni’s murderer to justice, and if you have any information, please contact the California Highway Patrol.”
He did not elaborate on the human-trafficking allegation. The girl’s cousins said last week that Tioni had been pulled into prostitution and theft by a man she met on Instagram.
“We’re definitely not pretending that Tioni was an angel,” cousin Nafeesah Kincy said. “She faced trauma. I want to humanize her. I don’t want her to be seen as a prostitute or a runaway or somebody that people feel like, ‘Oh well, they live that lifestyle.’”
Another cousin, Senia Theus, said she does not think Tioni was the victim of sex trafficking.
“I’m not going to make it and say my baby was perfect, but not horrible either,” Theus said. “She was taken away too soon. We were always fighting for that kid. We just wanted her to be a teenager.”
The City News Service contributed to this report.