Jonshel Alexander, child actor in 'Beasts of the Southern Wild,' killed in 7th Ward
Jonshel Alexander, who played a supporting role as a child in the Academy Award-nominated film "Beasts of the Southern Wild," was fatally shot Saturday night in New Orleans' 7th Ward. She was 22.
Police said she and a man were shot in a vehicle in the 1500 block of North Claiborne Avenue at about 9 p.m. Paramedics declared Alexander dead there. The man drove himself to the hospital.
The youngest of three children, Alexander grew up in the 8th Ward on St. Claude Avenue. From an early age, she displayed a ferocious creativity, participating in cheerleading and dance classes and enrolling in modeling and acting schools. After graduating from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter High School, she worked as a hostess in restaurants and devoted herself to the care of her 1-year-old daughter, De-vynne Robinson.
"She brought life to everything," her mother, Shelly Alexander, said Tuesday. "Jonshel was feisty, jazzy, spoiled. It was her way or no way. Jonshel was like, 'It's going to be me.'"
At age 12, Alexander played Joy Strong in "Beasts of the Southern Wild," a 2012 surrealist drama that was shot south of Houma. The film explores a storm-threatened bayou community set outside the levee system and the children who inhabit it. It 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 arriving at a cast.
Shelly Alexander said her daughter charmed the "Beasts of the Southern Wild" filmmakers, who had set up shop auditioning actors at the former Charles J. Colton Middle School on St. Claude Avenue. "She was like, 'I’m going to be in this movie,'" her mother said. "They fell in love with Jonshel."
Alexander was too old to play the lead role of Hushpuppy, which went to 6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. But Zeitlin said he was captivated by Alexander. He described her as an “absolute one-of-a-kind, unforgettable, force-of-nature human being” and cast her in the supporting role.
Quvenzhané Wallis, left, and Jonshel Alexander clown on the set of "Beasts of the Southern Wild" in 2012.
“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, who has been in touch with Alexander's family since hearing about the shooting, said he was completely devastated to hear of her death.
Investigators said they have located a vehicle of interest, a maroon pickup truck that they suspect was used by the killer. They are seeking a person of interest, pictured below.
Jonshel Alexander murder person of interest
Police seek assistance locating this man in the killing of Jonshel Alexander in New Orleans.
Police ask that anyone with information about this vehicle, individual or the killing call homicide detective Brittany Kimbrough at (504) 658-5300 or call Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans Inc. anonymously at (504) 822-1111 or (877) 903-7867.