Entertainment And News

Police Say Teen Found Dead On LA Highway May Have Been A Trafficking Victim After Meeting Older Man Online

Photo: Facebook
Tioni Theus

The body of a 16-year-old girl that was dumped on the side of a freeway in Los Angeles earlier this month may have been the victim of human trafficking, according to L.A. Distrct Attorney George Gascón.

Tioni Theus was found with a gunshot wound to the neck on January 8 on the side of the Harbor Freeway on the Manchester Avenue on-ramp in South Los Angeles.

The teen had was last seen the day before her body was found and her family believe she was in contact with an older man who she met online. 

Investigators say Tioni Theus may have sex trafficked before her murder.

"There is evidence indicating that this young girl may have been the victim of human trafficking," Gascón said during a news conference. "And this speaks to why we need to do more for survivors of human trafficking, especially children who are exceptionally vulnerable."

RELATED: Texas Brothers Accused Of Killing Stepfather Who Allegedly Sexually Abused 9-Year-Old Sister

According to Gascón, court records indicate Theus was identified as a CSEC victim, which means the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

The teenager's family said Theus was a straight-A student, who enjoyed dance and golf. Rashida Kincy, a cousin of Theus, 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," Kincy told NBC Los Angeles.

Theus had been last seen on January 7 after telling her father that she was meeting a friend to go to a party.

RELATED: Harmony Montgomery Was ‘Homeless & Living Out Of Cars’ Before Disappearing, According To New Timeline

The young girl's life took a turn in 2019, when her mother was severely injured in a hit-and-run crash that left her in a rehabilitation center. After the accident, Theus began rebelling and disappearing for long periods of time.

Tioni Theus's cousin believe an older man led her into the world of human trafficking.

Kincy told The Los Angeles Times that Theus had met the man in his 20s through Instagram.

"We're definitely not pretending that Tioni was an angel. She faced trauma," Kincy told the Times. "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.'"

Authorities in Los Angeles are offering a reward for information that leads to the person responsible for Tioni Theus' death.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors signed off on the $60,000 reward for tips about who was involved in the 16-year-old's murder.

"Tioni was a young lady with so much promise, joy and spirit, with God-given gifts and talents to give to the world," Price said in a statement to People.

"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."

A GoFundMe campaign was established to help raise money to cover the costs of Tioni Theus' funeral.

RELATED: Police Open Criminal Investigation 6 Weeks After Woman Dies On Bumble Date With Older Man

Nia Tipton is a writer living in Brooklyn. She covers pop culture, social justice issues, and trending topics. Follow her on Instagram.

Sign up for YourTango's free newsletter!