Teen Found Dead On The Side Of The Freeway Possibly A Sex Trafficking Victim, LA County DA Says
A 16-year-old girl was found murdered along the freeway on January 8, and her family says the case is not receiving the attention it deserves.
Darien Jackson didn’t know it was the last time he’d see his teenage daughter, Tioni Theus, when she left his Compton, California, workplace on Friday, January 7.
Jackson told CBS Los Angeles that his daughter was upset and seemed depressed before she left with a friend to go to a party that evening. Less than 24 hours later, a California Highway Patrol officer found the teen’s body along the I-110 on-ramp at Manchester Avenue in South LA. Authorities revealed she’d been shot twice in the neck.
Theus’s cousin told the Los Angeles Times that the teen began acting out after her mother was left disabled after a horrific car accident in 2019. With her primary caregiver permanently living in a rehabilitation facility, the teen bounced between relatives and used the inconsistency to mask her activities.
Theus’s cousin also said a man in his 20s contacted Theus via Instagram and eventually forced her into sex work and shoplifting. The LA County District Attorney has revealed that Theus was likely a victim of human trafficking.
Finding a Killer
Theus’s family is desperate for information. There have been few updates from the police in the three weeks since Theus was killed, yet another murdered young woman saw her case solved within days.
On January 13, five days after Theus’s body was discovered along the freeway, UCLA student Brianna Kupfer was found stabbed to death in a furniture store in the affluent Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. By January 18, LAPD had identified a suspect and there was a $250,000 reward to find him.The alleged murderer, Shawn Laval Smith, was arrested on January 19 and charged with Kupfer’s murder January 21.
Meanwhile, Theus’s family and community activists have told various news outlets that they believe race plays a factor in the attention and resources the cases have received. Theus was a Black teen from Compton. Kupfer was a white woman from Pacific Palisades.
"I'm sorry for her [Kupfer’s] loss. She was killed. They got the killer, a reward, everything fast," Tioni's cousin Senia Theus told ABC 7. "We want justice. I don't care about no money, nothing...Whatever it takes to get this person off of the streets and to get justice for Tioni is what we want."
Raising the Reward
On January 22, Theus’s family held a vigil asking officials to offer a reward for information leading to an arrest in her case, and a $10,000 award was finally announced on January 26.
According to ABC 7, two LA City Council members are asking for another $50,000 in reward money, and a nonprofit, Operation Hope, is pledging an additional $5000 to the pot.
On January 26, California Governor Gavin Newsom pledged an additional $50,000 in reward money from the state’s coffers. If the city council approves its $50,000 pledge, the total reward amount would stand at $115,000, which is less than half of the reward offered in the Kupfer case.
Police have not offered any motives or identified any suspects in the Theus case.
Anybody with information about Tioni Theus’s death is asked to call the California Highway Patrol at 323-644-9557.
If you or someone you know is in danger due to human trafficking you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking. You can also text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733 or chat with the National Human Trafficking Hotline.