Los Angeles city and county officials will consider a combined $60,000 reward for tips leading to the arrest and prosecution of the person who killed 16-year-old Tioni Theus, whose body was found this month on a freeway on-ramp in South Los Angeles.
Motions were introduced Tuesday morning in the City Council and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to bring more attention to the teen’s slaying. Tioni was shot in the neck, and her body was dumped along a 110 Freeway on-ramp near Manchester Avenue, several miles north of her home in Compton, according to police.
Councilmembers Curren Price and Marqueece Harris-Dawson introduced a motion for a $50,000 reward during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, and LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell introduced a motion for a $10,000 reward during the Board of Supervisors meeting.
“Tioni was a young lady with so much promise, joy and spirit, with God-given gifts and talents to give to the world. She had so much to live for and countless unfinished dreams,” Price said in a statement. “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.”
There was some initial confusion about the city’s role in the reward, because Tioni’s body was found on state property, Price said. He hopes the reward money encourages someone to come forward and lead police to Tioni’s killer.
“There’s outrage by the community, outrage by the family and, frankly, outrage from me,” Price said. “No mother or father should have to carry the burden of not knowing what happened during the final moments of their child’s life.”
The City Council’s motion is expected to go to a vote next week.
Senia Theus, Tioni’s cousin, cried tears of joy Tuesday when she learned that a reward would be offered.
“Everything made her laugh. She was a bundle of joy, real bubbly and friendly,” Theus said. “She was very goofy, happy. She was always smiling, even when she was crying.”
Her murder “wasn’t deserving of her,” Theus, 40, said.
The California Highway Patrol is investigating the teen’s killing with assistance from the Los Angeles Police Department. A motive has not been determined, and no suspect identifications or vehicle descriptions have been released.
Tioni was last seen Jan 7 leaving her father’s house in Compton. She told him she was meeting a friend to go to a party, but she never returned.
Family described the girl as vibrant, energetic and intelligent but said she suffered a traumatic episode after her mother was severely injured in a hit-and-run crash that left her physically and mentally disabled. Tioni’s cousin Nafeesah Kincy said the teen had met a man in his 20s on Instagram who pulled her into sex trafficking.
“We’re definitely not pretending that Tioni was an angel. She faced trauma,” Kincy said. “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.’ ”
Theus, however, said she does not think her cousin was being trafficked for sex.
“I’m not going to make it and say my baby was perfect, but not horrible either,” Theus said. “She was taken away too soon. We were always fighting for that kid. We just wanted her to be a teenager.”
Tioni had talked about going into nursing because she wanted to help her mother recover from her disability, Theus said.
Harris-Dawson, who co-sponsored the City Council motion, said news outlets have been quick to devalue Black women and girls when they are victims.
“The underlying subtext of their thinking is distilled into worthiness; a young Black 16-year-old can only be exploited and trafficked,” Harris-Dawson said in a statement. “Today my colleagues have joined me in introducing a reward motion that crosses county, city and district boundaries to encourage anyone who knows the perpetrator to come forward and bring peace to Tioni’s family, friends and our South Los Angeles community.”
Family members held a vigil near where the body was found to bring attention to Tioni’s killing. Many had questioned why a $250,000 reward was offered in the slaying of Brianna Kupfer yet, until now, none had been discussed for Tioni’s case.
Copper was stabbed in the Hancock Park furniture store where she worked several days after Tioni’s body was discovered. The suspect in her slaying was arrested one day after Councilmember Paul Koretz made a motion for the city to offer a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the killer. The amount was increased to $250,000 by contributions from the community.
Times staff writer Erika D. Smith contributed to this report.