California authorities are offering a $115,00 reward for information about who killed a 16-year-old girl, a possible human-trafficking victim whose body was recently found dumped along a Los Angeles highway.
Tioni Theus was found Jan. 8 along a southbound on-ramp to the 110 Freeway, according to the California Highway Patrol, which is leading the probe, ABC 7 reported.
The black teen had been shot in the neck, according to the coroner’s office.
State, county and city officials have banded together to offer a total of $115,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest and conviction.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom approved a $50,000 reward from the state – adding to a $50,000 offer proposed by the LA City Council and $10,000 offered by LA County, according to NBC Los Angeles.
The community nonprofit Operation Hope kicked in an extra $5,000 for the effort.
“There has to be an individual out there that witnessed at least a portion, if not the entirety, of this case,” CHP Assistant Chief Jesus Holguin told reporters Wednesday, CNN reported.
“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,” he added.
LA County District Attorney George Gascón said there is evidence Toni “may have been the victim of human trafficking,” NBC Los Angeles reported.
He said court records indicate she had been identified as a CSEC — or commercial sexual exploitation of children — victim.
“This speaks as to why we need to do more for survivors of human trafficking, especially children who are exceptionally vulnerable to the coercive tactics of traffickers,” Gascón said at the news conference, the LA Times reported.
LA County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said the teen’s death — and those of too many other black females — draw too little interest.
“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,” Mitchell said, according to CNN.
“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,” she said.
“Time and time again, missing and victimized Black women and girls are overlooked and lacked the appropriate media attention in comparison to their counterparts,” Mitchell added, the LA Times reported.
The girl’s family and activists questioned why the killing of Brianna Kupfer, 24, a white UCLA grad student who was fatally stabbed in a furniture store several days after Tioni’s body was found, received more attention and prompted a $250,000 reward.
The suspect in her slaying, Shawn Laval Smith, 31, was arrested a day after Councilmember Paul Koretz made a motion for the city to offer a $50,000 reward in the case.
The amount was increased to $250,000 by contributions from the community.
Smith faces one count of murder and a special allegation he used a deadly and dangerous weapon in the stabbing at the boutique store in Hancock Park, Gascón said in a news release.
On Tuesday, LA City Councilmember Curren Price said in a statement: “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.
“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,” Price continued, the LA Times reported.
“There’s outrage by the community, outrage by the family and, frankly, outrage from me,” he 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.”
Tioni’s cousin Senia Theus, 40, was elated Tuesday when she learned that a reward would be offered.
“Everything made her laugh. She was a bundle of joy, real bubbly and friendly,” Senia said, according to the LA Times. “She was very goofy, happy. She was always smiling, even when she was crying.”
Her slaying “wasn’t deserving of her,” Senia added.