Child actor Jonshel Alexander, best known for her supporting role as Joy Strong in Beasts of the Southern Wild, has died at age 22.
Alexander was shot in New Orleans while sitting in a car with a man, whose name hasn't been released. She was "pronounced dead at the scene," according to CBS, leaving behind a 1-year-old daughter. The man she was with was able to drive himself to the hospital.
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 Hushpuppy, which went to then-6-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis. But Zeitlin 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."
The shooter, who was wearing a ski mask, has not yet been found, and investigators "have asked the public's help for any information in the case."