Aformer child actress who starred in the Oscar-nominated 2012 movie Beasts of the Southern Wild was shot dead in New Orleans while sitting in a car with a man who police suspect was the gunman's intended target.
The late Louisiana native Jonshel Alexander, 22, played a supporting role in the acclaimed film that had been directed by Benh Zeitlin in her home state.
Alexander did not appear in any other movies and worked as a restaurant hostess to support her baby daughter.
According to police, Alexander and an unnamed man were sitting together in a car in the 1500 block of North Claiborne Avenue at around 9pm on Saturday when a masked gunman opened fire and then fled.
Paramedics who were called to the scene pronounced Alexander dead. The man she was with suffered a gunshot wound as well but was able to drive himself to a hospital for treatment.
Police have released photos showing a person of interest in a blue ski mask standing next to a maroon pickup truck. That vehicle has since been found torched miles away from the crime scene.
Shelley Alexander, Jonshel's mother, told the station WWL that she initially heard it was just her daughter's friend who had been shot, but when when could not reach her daughter by phone, she knew something was awry.
So when I got the phone call, I just dropped to my knees. I didn't know what to think, Shelley said.
Jonshel's father, Johnny Alexander, was at work when he got the tragic new.
'Right then and there I just froze,' he said. 'I just stood still for like two hours. I couldn't do anything. Because that was my baby girl.'
At age 12, Alexander played the character Joy Strong in Beasts of the Southern Wild, a drama filmed near Houma recounting the story of a poor Louisiana bayou community struggling for survival.
The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture.
Director Benh Zeitlin cast Louisiana natives for the lead roles, auditioning more than 4,000 actors before completing the cast.
Shelly Alexander said her daughter charmed the filmmakers and came out on top.
'She was like, "I’m going to be in this movie,"' her mother recalled. 'They fell in love with Jonshel.'
Alexander was too old to play the film’s lead role of Hushpuppy, which went to then-6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis.
Zeitlin, however, said he was captivated by Alexander, describing her as an 'absolute one-of-a-kind, unforgettable, force-of-nature human being' and cast her in the supporting role.
'We incorporated a part into the film that was very much inspired by her,' Zeitlin said.
'A lot of the lines were written by her, and so much of the character grew out of who Jonshel was.
'Her character in the film is named Joy Strong, which always seemed like a perfect description of Jonshel. She was a really bright burning light.'
Zeitlin said he was devastated to learn of her death and has been in touch with her family.
Alexander was the youngest of three children, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported.
Alexander had no further interest in pursuing a career as an actress and had no other film credits. She graduated from Martin Luther King Jr Charter School four years ago, and in March 2020 she welcomed her baby daughter, De-vynne Robinson.
She worked as a hostess in restaurants and devoted herself to the care of her child.
'She brought life to everything,' Shelley Alexander told the newspaper on Tuesday.
'Jonshel was feisty, jazzy, spoiled. It was her way or no way. Jonshel was like, "It’s going to be me."'
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