Tioni Theus, a 16-year-old southern California girl was found dead on the side of a Los Angeles highway more than three weeks ago, and investigators still have little idea what happened. 

Now, state and local authorities are offering a combined $110,000 in reward money for any information that leads to an arrest or conviction in connection with Theus’ death. 

“There has to be an individual out there that witnessed at least a portion, if not the entirety, of this case,” said Jesus Holguin, assistant chief of the California Highway Patrol, in a press conference on Wednesday. 

“We know that people out there witnessed something that we can follow up on and hopefully get to the bottom of this crime as soon as possible.”

What Happened to Tioni Theus? 

According to the office of LA County District Attorney George Gascon, Theus was last seen alive on the night of Jan. 7, when she left her Compton home to attend a party with a friend she met on Instagram. 

The next morning, she was found dead along the 110 Freeway. Medical examiners later determined that the teen had died from a gunshot wound to the neck. 

What happened to Tioni Theus. The 16-year-old was found dead on a Los Angeles highway a day after she left home to go to a party.
What happened to Tioni Theus? The 16-year-old was found dead on a Los Angeles highway a day after she left home to go to a party. Photo credit: CHP

Gascon said on Wednesday that his office uncovered evidence suggesting that Theus may have been a victim of human trafficking, though he did not specify further. 

As well, county prosecutor Tiffiny Blackwell said that documents filed in court suggest the 16-year-old may have been sexually abused at some point before her death, though she also declined to offer details. 

“Being a victim of human trafficking is not a moral failure,” Blacknell told reporters. “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.”

Also on Wednesday, California Governor Gavin Newsom approved a $50,000 cash reward for any tipster who can offer information that leads to an arrest or conviction in connection with Theus’ death. 

Just hours later, the Los Angeles City Council voted to match Newsom’s $50,000 offer. Combined with the $10,000 reward previously approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors last week, the standing bounty on Theus’ killer rose to a total of $110,000. 

Officials are offering a combined 10,000 reward for any information about what happened to Tioni Theus, the teen found dead from a gunshot wound to the neck off an LA highway earlier this month.
Officials are offering a combined $110,000 reward for any information about what happened to Tioni Theus, the teen found dead from a gunshot wound to the neck off an LA highway earlier this month. Photo credit: CHP

One member of the county board, Supervisor Holly Mitchell, said the killings of girls and women of color are too often ignored, underreported, and forgotten before justice can be served.  

“It is imperative we do not allow implicit bias and or the adultification of black girls to continue to influence the lack of media coverage or public outrage over their murders,” she told reporters

“We have come together as elected leaders […] to elevate her murder because of the trend we experience where black women and black girls deaths go unacknowledged, underreported and too often unsolved.”

A 24-year-old white grad student, Brianna Kupfer, was murdered in Los Angeles just days after Theus. The reward for her killer’s capture was a staggering $250,000, and LAPD arrested a suspect within days. 

Grieving Family Mourns Teen

Family members of the slain teen told reporters that Tioni Theus’ sudden and violent death made her loss all the more painful.

“She was thrown on the side of the freeway like trash, and she’s a child,” said her cousin Lakesia Barrett at a vigil last week. 

“She meant something to her family. She meant something to her mother that can’t be here. She meant something to her cousins that are here.”

Family members of Tioni Theus remembered her as vibrant and full of potential. Police are still trying to figure out what happened to the teen the night she was killed.
Family members of Tioni Theus remembered her as vibrant and full of potential. Police are still trying to figure out what happened to the teen the night she was killed. Photo credit: CHP

Other loved ones took solace in her memory. 

Rashida Kincy, another of the teen’s cousins, described her as a “young, vibrant young lady who was just cut from so much that was ahead of her.”

“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,” Kincy said.

If you have information about the death of 16-year-old Tioni Theus, you can call the California Highway Patrol tip line at 888-412-7463, or reach the Major Crimes unit directly at 323-644-9550. Calls and tips can be anonymous.