Tioni Theus was last seen on Jan. 7, before leaving her father’s Compton home.
Los Angeles County is considering contributing to a reward for information leading to the suspects involved in the killing of 16-year-old Tioni Theus, who was found dead on the side of 110 freeway earlier this month.
The teen was last seen on Jan. 7, before leaving her father’s Compton home to meet a friend to go to a party. Her body was spotted by drivers the following morning on the southbound side of the 110 Freeway near an on-ramp, PEOPLE reports. The coroner revealed Theus died from a gunshot wound to the neck.
“She was thrown on the side of the freeway like trash, and she’s a child. She meant something to her family,” her cousin Lakesia Barrett told KABC. “She meant something to her mother that can’t be here. She meant something to her cousins that are here.”
Theus attended Centennial High School, where she was a straight-A student, according to family members. She had been living with her father while her mother recovered from serious injuries related to a hit-and-run, per the report.
“Being a victim of human trafficking is not a moral failure,” says Tiffiny Blacknell, a lawyer with the district attorney’s office who says court documents confirm Theus was exploited. “Children cannot consent to sex work. Any characterization of Tioni as a prostitute or a sex worker is disgusting. She was a child. Her life mattered.”
“Everything made her laugh,” said Senia Theus, Theus’ cousin. “She was a bundle of joy, real bubbly and friendly. She was very goofy, happy. She was always smiling, even when she was crying.”
“Tioni was a young lady with so much promise, joy and spirit, with God-given gifts and talents to give to the world,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Curren Price in a statement. “She had so much to live for and countless unfinished dreams. It’s disheartening to know that the person or persons responsible for her killing are still on the loose while a family and entire community continues to grieve in search for answers.”
Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly J. Mitchell said at the press conference that the reward was an “incentive to those in the community and beyond to speak up and provide information about what occurred.”
Mitchell helped secure $10,000 from the county for the reward. The city of Los Angeles is considering providing $50,000, and the state of California will discuss contributing an additional $50,000, per the L.A. Times.
“Ms. Theus lived in Compton and was a student at Centennial High School,” according to the county motion. “She was reportedly living with her father as her mother recovered from a serious hit-and-run accident. Family members say she was a straight-A student and enjoyed dance and golf.”
Tioni’s cousin, Rashida Kincy, told KABC that Theus was a “young, vibrant young lady who was just cut from so much that was ahead of her.”
She added, “This has been a tragedy to my family, to the community, to anyone that has a child, that’s a cousin, that’s a friend.”
The California Highway Patrol is handling the investigation.
“This incident occurred on a Saturday morning,” California Highway Patrol Assistant Chief Jesus Holguin said at the press conference. “So there has to be — there’s people that were driving by. There has to be individuals out there that eyewitnessed at least a portion, if not the entirety of this case, and we need your support.”
Anonymous tipsters with information leading to the arrests of the suspects are asked to call 888-412-7463 or reach the Major Crimes unit directly at 323-644-9550.
A GoFundMe campaign has been established to raise money for burial costs. A vigil was held for the teenager on Jan. 19.
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