LOS ANGELES - In what has been an already devastating time for the family and friends of Tioni Theus, loved ones gathered and mourned at the teen's funeral service Thursday as investigators continue to search for her killer.
The service was held at the House of Winston in South Los Angeles' Westmont neighborhood. Her family allowed the ceremony to be open to the public.
‘She was not a prostitute. She was a victim of human trafficking.’
On Jan. 8, officials made a grim discovery. Theus’ body was found at the side of the 110 Freeway and officials say she was shot to death before her body was dumped on the side of the freeway.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said she was last seen leaving her home in Compton on Jan. 7 when she reportedly told her dad she was meeting a friend and going to a party. The DA also said the early stages of the investigation reveal she may have been a victim of human trafficking.
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"There is evidence indicating that this young girl may have been the victim of human trafficking," Gascón said, "and this speaks to why we need to do more for survivors of human trafficking, especially children who are exceptionally vulnerable."
Prior to her funeral services, her family and community leaders held a news conference.
"She was a 16-year-old child. She was not a prostitute. She was a victim of human trafficking and no child can be labeled a prostitute. These children are victims," said community activist Najee Ali. "The family did not fail Tioni. We failed. The community failed to protect her as a village.
"She was loved, she was appreciated. You would not believe the little girl that she was. We’re going to miss her every single day. We’re going to think about her every single day," her uncle Michael Dolphin said. "Please don’t let her be forgotten. Don’t let this tragedy be overlooked."
Her cousin, Nafeesha Kincy, often speaks on behalf of the family.
"If we can bring awareness and justice for Tioni, it will bring awareness to the greater problem, which is young girls are being taken advantage of. They’re being murdered," Kincy said.
Reward offered in the investigation
The reward for information leading to the capture and conviction of the 16-year-old’s killer has grown to $110,000, Gascón announced Wednesday. The reward amount has been possible due to a combination of state, county, and city funds.
Authorities are hoping the reward money will offer an incentive for someone to come forward and do the right thing, by giving police the information they need.
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