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Los Angeles officials plead for help in solving the killing of teen girl dumped on the freeway

<i>California Highway Patrol</i><br/>The reward for information leading to an arrest in the killing of Tioni Theus is $110
California Highway Patrol
The reward for information leading to an arrest in the killing of Tioni Theus is $110

By Cheri Mossburg, CNN

Nearly three weeks after the body of a teenage girl was found dumped on a busy freeway off-ramp in Los Angeles, local leaders are pleading for tips from the public and offering a large reward as an incentive to solve her killing.

Tioni Theus, 16, was found in the early morning of January 8, according to officials with the California Highway Patrol (CHP), which is leading the investigation.

The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner determined Theus died from a gunshot wound to the neck.

State, county and city officials have banded together to offer a collective $110,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible.

“There has to be an individual out there that witnessed at least a portion, if not the entirety, of this case,” CHP Assistant Chief Jesus Holguin said at a news conference Wednesday. “We know that people out there witnessed something that we can follow up on and hopefully get to the bottom of this crime as soon as possible.”

At a funeral service for Theus on Thursday, Principal Michael Massa, who oversees the Central Juvenile Hall school Theus attended last summer, called her “a brilliant child who was able to jump in immediately and make a difference, support the girls in her unit.”

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a letter that was read to the audience that the city will pursue justice with “the urgency Tioni deserves, and her community demands.”

Michael Dolphin, Theus’s uncle, spoke before the service.

“We all think that we do everything that we can to watch out for our younger ones, but they are pulled in so many directions. We need to pull harder,” he lamented. “I’m sorry to say we could have done better.”

“Do not let this tragedy be overlooked,” Dolphin urged. “There are other young people who need us just as much.”

Theus might have been trafficking victim, DA says

At Wednesday’s news conference, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said Theus might have been a human trafficking victim.

Theus was considered to be especially vulnerable, as court documents indicate she was a child victim of sexual exploitation and her mother was incapacitated following an injury, explained Tiffini Blacknell, a special adviser to Gascón.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Holly Mitchell said Theus’ death, and the deaths of too many other Black females, draw too little interest.

“It is imperative we do not allow implicit bias and or the adultification of Black girls to continue to influence the lack of media coverage or public outrage over their murders,” Mitchell insisted. “We have come together as elected leaders … to elevate her murder because of the trend we experience where Black women and Black girls deaths go unacknowledged, underreported and too often unsolved.”

Just days after Theus was killed, Brianna Kupfer, 24, who is White, was stabbed to death in the wealthy Los Angeles neighborhood of Hancock Park. Kupfer’s death prompted a major public outcry and media coverage as the hunt for her killer ensued.

A $250,000 reward was offered in her case.

Last week, police in Pasadena arrested Shawn Laval Smith, 31, and charged him with Kupfer’s murder. He is being held on a $2,020,000 bond, according to inmate records.

CNN has not been able to determine whether he has an attorney.

™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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