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Former Beasts of the Southern Wild actress Jonshel Alexander has been shot and killed

Former child star Jonshel Alexander, 22, who appeared in 2012 Oscar-nominated movie Beasts of the Southern Wild is shot dead by a masked gunman while sitting in a car in New Orleans

  • Former child star Jonshel Alexander, 22, was shot and killed while sitting in a vehicle in New Orleans on Saturday 
  • Alexander had appeared in the Oscar-nominated 2012 drama Beasts of the Southern Wild shot by director Benh Zeitlin
  • The one-time actress was pronounced dead at the scene, while her male companion was wounded but survived after driving himself to the hospital
  • Police say they believe gunman was aiming for Alexander’s companion and she was not the intended target  


A former 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 real target.

The late Louisiana native Jonshel Alexander, 22, played a supporting role in the acclaimed film that had been shot by director Benh Zeitlin in her home state.

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. 

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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.  

Former child actress Jonshel Alexander, 22, (left) who appeared in the 2012 film Beasts of the Southern Wild was shot and killed in a car in New Orleans on Saturday

Alexander had appeared in the film as Joy Strong when she was 12 after she was cast by director Benh Zeitlin

Alexander had appeared in the film as Joy Strong when she was 12 after she was cast by director Benh Zeitlin

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.’

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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 and an unnamed man were shot in a vehicle at the 1500 block of North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. She was pronounced dead at the scene and the man, who remains unnamed, drove himself to the hospital for treatment.

Alexander and an unnamed man were shot in a vehicle at the 1500 block of North Claiborne Avenue in New Orleans. She was pronounced dead at the scene and the man, who remains unnamed, drove himself to the hospital for treatment. 

Police are investigating the incident and are searching for the male suspect who was found at the scene of the shooting

Police are investigating the incident and are searching for the male suspect who was found at the scene of the shooting

Alexander was the youngest of three children, The Times-Picayune/The New Orleans Advocate reported. 

After graduating from high school, she worked as a hostess in restaurants and devoted herself to the care of her 1-year-old daughter, De-vynne Robinson.

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‘She brought life to everything,’ Shelly 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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