LOS ANGELES – One day after a reward fund swelled in hopes of generating tips leading to the killer of Tioni Theus, funeral services are set for today 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 Harbor (110) Freeway on the Manchester Avenue on-ramp 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.
No suspect description was available.
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 another $50,000.
That motion is expected to be approved in the next week.
A host of elected officials, including District Attorney George Gascón, had a news conference Wednesday reaching out for public help 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,” and noted 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.”
Gascón did not elaborate on the human-trafficking allegation.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva recently addressed the issue as it relates to the upcoming Super Bowl, which will be played in the city of Inglewood Feb. 13.
“This is … always a lead-up to the Super Bowl, which ends up being one of the major events that draws human traffickers to the region,” the sheriff said. “Sadly, millions of people worldwide are forced to endure this form of modern-day slavery. And they prey on the most vulnerable — those looking for opportunities in the U.S., those that have come without families and unsuspecting people that may be lured online.”
Southern California is already a hot spot for human trafficking, including sex trafficking, in part because of large runaway and homeless youth populations and proximity to international borders.
In recent years, local law enforcement agencies’ approach to sex trafficking has shifted to prosecuting those soliciting sex and trying to provide support for victims.
The girl’s cousins told the Los Angeles Times 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 told the paper. “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.’
“It’s so many young women out here being victimized and being taken advantage of physically and sexually. So, it’s my cousin today. But it could be your cousin, your daughter, your friend tomorrow,” Kincy added.
The girl’s relatives and a group of community activists plan to have a news conference prior to today’s funeral service to again reach out for public help in the case. They will also call for the creation of a multi-agency task force to “hunt for her murderer.”
The funeral service will follow the noon news conference at Winston Mortuary in Los Angeles.
In response to Tioni’s death, Harris-Dawson and Price introduced a motion Wednesday asking for an equity analysis of violence and crime targeting Black women and girls, how the cases are handled and the rate at which they are solved.
Their motion asks that the city’s Civil + Human Rights and Equity Department and police department to make recommendations to improve equity and justice for all crime victims.
The equity analysis would include information on violence and crime experienced by Black women and girls in Los Angeles, the rate at which homicides and violent crime against Black women and are girls are solved, how missing persons cases involving Black women and girls are handled and policy recommendations to increase equity and justice for Black victims and their families.
They note in their motion that it took nearly two weeks after Tioni’s death before any requests were made for public help finding her killer.
Social media accounts were posting about Theus’ death, particularly one that Harris-Dawson’s official account follows.
“While violent crime against any individual, regardless of race or gender, is a terrible tragedy, deep inequities exist in the violence and crime Black women and girls face, the way in which those crimes are covered in the media, and in turn, the way in which society perceive sand responds to the
problem,” according to the motion. “Tioni Theus, and all Black women and girls who have been the victims of violent crime, deserve our attention, compassion and the swift and urgent pursuit of justice.”
The city of Los Angeles has the Commission on the Status of Women, with two Black women commissioners, but it is unclear what that body actually does, or how effectively they are addressing the status of BLACK women in the City.
We can’t pretend these politicians don’t bare some responsibility for the uptick in crime in their communities mainly because they continue to ignore it.
The community had to, in a sense, force them to put up the reward.
Why would they agree with law enforcement that crime is up, when they are pandering to Black folks with their “reimagine public safety” spill.
Politicians allegedly live in the same communities as us, and presumably drive these same streets. They are on social media, under the guise of “engaging” with their constituents, yet they are wairing for the “media” to alert them to a dead body the community was talking about for days?
Why aren’t they using their offices to alert the media and call attention to the disparity in reporting?
They do it for everything else they want the public to know about.
The motion cited a 2016 Northwestern Law Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology study that found that missing-person cases involving Black people make up about one-fifth of such reports in the mainstream media, even though they make up one-third of all missing-person cases reported to the FBI.
About 34% of missing girls and women in 2020 were Black, despite Black girls and women being only about 15% of the U.S. female population, the motion added, citing the National Crime Information Center.
Last Saturday, a group of activists gathered and pushed for elected officials to offer a reward for information in the girl’s killing. They said then that the absence of a reward in the killing of the young Black girl stood in stark contrast to the reward of up to $250,000 that was quickly offered in the search for the killer of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer, a white Pacific Palisades resident and UCLA grad student who was fatally stabbed Jan. 13 inside a boutique furniture store in Hancock Park. Her alleged killer was arrested days later.
The stark difference was law enforcement officials had video of the alleged killer in a nearby convenience store, a witness statement of someone he interacted with before Kupfer, and they had his mugshot plastered throughout the media. We have no description and/or leads on Theus’ case.
According to Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell’s motion to authorize the county’s $10,000 reward offer in the search for Tioni’s killer, the girl lived in Compton and was a student at Centennial High School. 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.
“Investigators are urging anyone with information about this incident to contact the California Highway Patrol.” The CHP asked anyone with information about her killing to call the agency at 323-644-9557.
“And if you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking and is looking for support or services, contact the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 888-373-7888,” said Villanueva.
2UrbanGirls contributed to this report.