A group of community activists gathered Saturday to call on state officials to introduce a reward for information leading to the killer of a 16-year-old girl whose body was found dumped alongside the Harbor (110) Freeway.
Tioni Theus’ body — with a gunshot wound to her neck — was found the morning of Jan. 8 on the side of the freeway on the West Manchester Avenue on-ramp near South Figueroa Street, in the Vermont Knolls area of Los Angeles, according to the California Highway Patrol.
She had last been seen the previous day after telling a family member she was going to meet a friend to go to a party, officials said. No further information was provided, and no suspect description was available.
Tioni’s family, along with members of the CHP and activists from Project Hope, attended the Saturday news conference calling on officials to offer a reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect or suspects responsible for the teen’s death.
Rashida Kinsey described Tioni as a “vibrant young lady that was just cut from so much that was ahead of her,” according to ABC7. “This has been a tragedy to my family, to the community.”
A representative from the CHP also spoke at the news conference. “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,” said CHP Capt. Jeff Lofton. “If you find something at Manchester and the 110, call investigators.”
Activists say the absence of a reward in the killing of a young Black girl stands in stark contrast to efforts that led to a $250,000 reward proposed in the search for the killer of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer, a Pacific Palisades resident and UCLA grad student who was fatally stabbed Jan. 13 inside a boutique furniture store in Hancock Park.
Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion Tuesday to create a $50,000 reward in the Kupfer case, and private donations later raised the amount to a potential $250,000.
Kupfer’s alleged killer was arrested Wednesday in Pasadena. It was not immediately clear if anyone would be in line to receive a reward in that case.
“The CHP is conducting the criminal investigation (into Tioni’s death), and California elected officials are the representatives the family must make the award request from since her body was dumped and recovered on California state property,” said Najee Ali of Project Hope.
“It’s important that Governor Newsom and state elected officials realize that Tioni Theus’ life mattered,” he added. “The fact that someone could shoot and kill a young woman and dump her body on the side of the freeway like she was trash is outrageous.”
Ali told City News Service that he’s reached out to Los Angeles City Council members Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson about a possible reward from the City Council, but they have to coordinate those efforts with state officials, mainly Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Los Angeles.
“Procedurally, the CHP is leading the investigation because the body was found on state property, so we have to work with state officials,” Ali said.
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.
Tioni’s cousins told the Los Angeles Times the teen was good in school and enjoyed golfing, dancing and singing. But they said her life took a turn in 2019 when her mother was severely injured in a hit-and-run crash that has left her in a rehabilitation facility.
Tioni began rebelling after that, disappearing for long periods and eventually being pulled into prostitution and theft by a man she met on Instagram, the cousins told The Times.
“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.
Price also called for justice in the case.
“All of Los Angeles needs to say her name. Tioni, a young Black 16- year-old, straight A student and devoted daughter was gunned down and left on the side of the 110 freeway. The person(s) involved in her killing are heartless and need to be brought to justice,” the councilman tweeted Friday.
“I stand in solidarity with the Theus family and the African American community demanding justice in her name so that her family and loved ones can find solace in knowing that the ones who chose to end this vibrant girl’s life will answer to their crime,” Price continued.