The state of California has added another $50,000 to the reward money for information leading to the killer of 16-year-old Tioni Theus earlier this month, as the Los Angeles County District Attorney revealed the teen may have been a victim of human trafficking.
The $50,000 addition, approved Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and announced at a Wednesday morning news conference, joins a $50,000 offer proposed by LA City Council and $10,000 offered by Los Angeles County.
That $110,000 from the city, county and state, combined with $5,000 provided by community nonprofit Operation Hope, brings the total reward up to $115,000.
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The increased reward came during the same news conference at which Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said there is evidence Tioni "may have been the victim of human trafficking."
According to Gascón, court records indicate the teen was identified as a CSEC, or commercial sexual exploitation of children, victim.
"Children cannot consent to sex work," said Tiffany Blacknell, Los Angeles County District Attorney Office special adviser. "[Tioni] was a child. Her life mattered."
Tioni Theus was fatally shot in the neck, and her body was found dumped on the side of the 110 Freeway on Jan. 8, on the West Manchester Avenue on-ramp near South Figueroa Street.
Family members say she was a straight-A student and enjoyed dance and golf. Rashida Kincy, a cousin of Tioni, described her as a “vibrant young lady that was just cut from so much that was ahead of her.”
“This has been a tragedy to my family, to the community,” she said.
The teen's 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, and the teen began rebelling and disappearing for long periods of time.
"Yes, 16-year-olds have problems," cousin Lakesia Barrett said at a vigil for Tioni. "What 16-year-old didn’t? But the people who took her life got a chance to get it right. She don’t."
"She meant something to her mother who can’t be here," cousin Lakesia Barrett said of Tioni. "She meant something to her cousins who are here."
Activists had said the absence of a reward in the killing of the young Black girl, with no arrests two weeks after her body was found, stands in stark contrast to efforts that led to a $250,000 reward offered in the search for the killer of 24-year-old Brianna Kupfer.
Kupfer was a Pacific Palisades resident and UCLA grad student who was fatally stabbed Jan. 13 inside a boutique furniture store in Hancock Park.
Theus's family is happy to see state, county and city authorities now offering reward money in the case.
Authorities are hopeful the reward will lead to an influx of information in the case.
"We're very confident that we're moving forward in a positive direction and hopefully have some good news in the very near future," Assistant Chief Jesus Holguin of the California Highway Patrol said during Wednesday's news conference.
On Wednesday, CHP Capt. Jeff Lofton asked anyone with information about the case to come forward.
"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," Lofton said. "If you find something at Manchester and the 110, call investigators."
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.