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Murdered Compton Teen Tioni Theus May Have Been Victim Of Human Trafficking

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón says that there is evidence that the 16-year-old, who was shot twice in the neck before being dumped on the side of a freeway, was the victim of human trafficking.

By Gina Tron
Tioni Theus

A California teenager who was shot and then dumped on the side of the freeway may have been the victim of human trafficking.

The body of Tioni Theus, 16, was found dumped on an Interstate 110 on-ramp in South Los Angeles on Jan. 8. She’d been shot twice in the neck, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said there is evidence that the slain teen "may have been the victim of human trafficking,” NBC Los Angeles reports.

Gascón stated that court records reveal that Theus had been identified as a  commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) victim.

"Children cannot consent to sex work," said Tiffany Blacknell, Los Angeles County District Attorney Office special adviser, said at the presser. "[Tioni] was a child. Her life mattered."

Theus has been described as a vibrant straight-A student who enjoyed both dance and golf, but relatives have also said that her life changed after her mother was permanently disabled in a severe car accident in 2019. (Her mother remains in a rehabilitation facility as a result of her injuries.) Family said the teen began rebelling after the accident and would disappear for stretches of time, according to Los Angeles NBC affiliate KNBC.

Her cousin Nafeesah Kincy told the LA. Times that Tioni was trafficked by an older man she met on Instagram. (U.S. government officials say that many young victims of human trafficking "are often preyed on by traffickers and lured with false promises of love, money or simply a better life," in addition to the more commonly known threats and acts of violence, restraint, isolation and financial abuse.)

"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.'"

Another cousin, Senia Theus, doesn't yet believe Tioni was trafficked, she told the Times.

"I’m not going to make it and say my baby was perfect, but not horrible either," she said. "She was taken away too soon."

"Yes, 16-year-olds have problems," another cousin Lakesia Barrett said at a vigil for Tioni, according to KNBC. "What 16-year-old didn’t? 

“Dumped on the freeway like nothing,” the teenager's father Darien Jackson told local outlet KCAL. “That just broke me down. It hurt me, it’s like... who could be so cold like that?”

An extra $50,000 reward from the state for information was approved Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The total reward is now up to $115,000 for information related to the capture of Theus' killer or killers; most of the rest of that is from the L.A. City Council and the county. 

County Supervisor Holly Mitchell has previously told Oxygen.com in a statement that "Tioni was just beginning her life, with all the possibilities ahead of her, ripped away in an instant. It’s heart-wrenching to think that someone who had so much promise and the world at her feet could be taken in such a cruel manner."

Anyone with additional information is urged to contact the California Highway Patrol at 323-644-9557.