Three weeks ago, the body of 16-year old Tioni Theus was discovered with a bullet hole through the neck and dumped on the side of Los Angeles’ 110 Freeway. Her family questions why Theus’ case has gone without much buzz until lately while that of Brianna Kupfer, who was white and killed by 31-year-old Shawn Laval Smith (who is Black), was promptly handled by law enforcement.
“Time and time again, missing and victimized Black women and girls are overlooked and lacked the appropriate media attention in comparison to their counterparts,” L.A. County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The office of California Governor Gavin Newsom is now offering up to $50,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction of Theus’ killers. However, the amount may more than double as the Los Angeles City Council is also considering a reward of the same amount, and the L.A. County Board of Supervisors will contribute an additional $10,000, which brings the potential reward to $110,000.
Theus was allegedly last seen leaving her father’s Compton home and on her way to a friend’s party when she disappeared. At Wednesday’s press conference, L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón said that the current evidence suggest that Theus was a human trafficking victim.
Lakesia Barrett, Theus’ cousin was irate when she spoke with KABC. “She was thrown on the side of the freeway like trash, and she’s a child!” she told the outlet.
Nafeesah Kincy, another one of the victim’s cousins, told the L.A. Times, she seconded Gascón’s assumption. “We’re definitely not pretending that Tioni was an angel. She faced trauma,” Kincy said, contending that Theus met a “man in his 20s” on Instagram and was lured into sex work. “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.’”
But County Supervisor Mitchell, who wrote the motion for the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to post the $10,000 reward, urged everyone to remember Tioni Theus was a 16-year-old Black girl first and foremost.
“Tioni and her family, were robbed of her right to grow up and live a full life,” she said in her statement. Mitchell concluded with the following: “Cases involving Black victims are four times more likely to go unsolved. It is imperative that we do not allow implicit bias or adultification influence the media’s coverage and public outrage over the murders of Black girls.”
Persons with information about the murder Tioni Theus are ased to call the anonymous tip line at 888-412-7463.
To report any incidences of human trafficking or get help, call 888-373-7888