Funeral held for Tioni Theus, the 16-year-old found dead alongside 110 Freeway

Mourners hug at funeral services for 16-year-old Tioni Theus in Los Angeles.
Mourners hug at the House of Winston in South L.A. during funeral services Thursday for Tioni Theus. The 16-year-old’s body was found Jan. 8 along a 110 Freeway onramp in South L.A. with a gunshot wound in the neck.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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One day after a reward fund swelled in hopes of generating tips leading to the killer of Tioni Theus, funeral services were held Thursday for the 16-year-old girl who was shot and left alongside a South Los Angeles freeway.

Tioni’s body was discovered Jan. 8 on the side of the 110 Freeway on the Manchester Avenue onramp near South Figueroa Street. Tioni was last seen Jan. 7 after telling a family member she was going to meet a friend to go to a party, officials said.

The state on Wednesday added $50,000 to a growing reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible for the teen’s death. The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $10,000 reward in the case. Los Angeles City Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson and Curren Price have introduced a motion for the city to offer an additional $50,000.

Mourners pay their respects at a funeral.
Mourners pay their respects at a funeral for Tioni Theus at the House of Winston in South L.A. on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

A number of elected officials, including Dist. Atty. George Gascón, held a news conference Wednesday to appeal to the public in tracking down the girl’s killer or killers.

The district attorney said there is evidence indicating that “this young girl may have been the victim of human trafficking,” noting that the investigation into her death is ongoing.

“We need the public’s help,” Gascón said. “Please help bring Tioni’s murderer to justice, and if you have any information, please contact the California Highway Patrol.”

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He did not elaborate on the human-trafficking allegation. The girl’s cousins said last week that Tioni had been pulled into prostitution and theft by a man she met on Instagram.

Mourners hold up a photo of Tioni Theus during her funeral.
Mourners hold up a funeral program with Tioni Theus’ photo at the House of Winston in South Los Angeles on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

“We’re definitely not pretending that Tioni was an angel,” cousin Nafeesah Kincy said. “She faced trauma. 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, said she does not think Tioni was the victim of sex trafficking.

“I’m not going to make it and say my baby was perfect, but not horrible either,” Theus said. “She was taken away too soon. We were always fighting for that kid. We just wanted her to be a teenager.”

Family and friends gather at Tioni Theus' funeral.
Family and friends gather at the House of Winston in South L.A. for Tioni Theus’ funeral Thursday.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
An image of Tioni Theus, seen smiling, on a funeral program.
An image of Tioni Theus, seen smiling, on a program at her funeral in Los Angeles.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
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Activist Najee Ali comforts Tioni Theus' father, during a funeral.
Activist Najee Ali, left, comforts Tioni Theus’ father at the funeral in South Los Angeles on Thursday.
(Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

The City News Service contributed to this report.