CHARLOTTE — “I have never known a pain as deep as this. I am forever changed,” said the mother of Cheslie Kryst, 30, a former Charlotte attorney and Miss USA, who died by suicide over the weekend in New York City.
“Today, what our family and friends privately knew was the cause of death of my sweet baby girl, Cheslie, was officially confirmed, said April Simpkins, Kryst’s mother, in a statement. “While it may be hard to believe, it’s true. Cheslie led both a public and a private life. In her private life, she was dealing with high-functioning depression which she hid from everyone - including me, her closest confidant - until very shortly before her death.
Kryst, a Charlotte-native, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina, where she was a track and field star.
Kryst was crowned Miss USA in May of 2019. She passed the crown in November of 2020. She reigned longer than any other winner in history -- 557 days -- because of the pandemic.
“While her life on this earth was short, it was filled with many beautiful memories,” Simpkins said. “We miss her laugh, her words of wisdom, her sense of humor and mostly her hugs. We miss all of it - we miss all of her. She was a vital part of our family which makes this loss even more devastating.”
When Kryst was crowned, it marked more than a personal triumph: It meant that for the first time, three Black women were the reigning Miss USA, Miss Teen USA and Miss America.
In addition to her reign as Miss USA, she was also an attorney with a master’s in business from Wake Forest.
Simpkins said her daughter was a ball of sunshine to the world.
“We talked, FaceTimed or texted one another all day, every day. You were more than a daughter - you were my very best friend,” Simpkins said. “Talking with you was one of the best parts of my day. Your smile and laugh were infectious. I love you baby girl with all my heart. I miss you desperately. I know one day we’ll be together again. Until then, rest easy and in peace.”
Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown tweeted that Kryst had recently helped a man earn his freedom after 25 years in prison.
“He had originally been sentenced to life in prison under previous drug laws. This past Christmas was his first time home in more than two decades,” Brown said.
Kryst was also a host on EXTRA. The entertainment show released a statement regarding her death saying:
“Our hearts are broken. Cheslie was not just a vital part of our show, she was a beloved part of our Extra family and touched the entire staff. Our deepest condolences to all her family and friends.”
Kryst’s family released a statement Sunday evening regarding her death saying:
“In devastation and great sorrow, we share the passing of our beloved Cheslie. Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength. She cared, she loved, she laughed and she shined. Cheslie embodies love and served others, whether through her work as an attorney fighting for social justice, as Miss USA and as a host on EXTRA. But most importantly, as a daughter, sister, friend, mentor and colleague - we know her impact will live on. As we reflect on our loss, the family asks for privacy at this time.”
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States.
The Lifeline is available for everyone, is free, and confidential. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.
Channel 9 has a list of resources for anyone who may be struggling. You can find the county-by-county guide here.
In lieu of flowers, make a donation to Dress for Success, an organization that was dear to Kryst’s heart, her mother said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Leaders across the Carolinas remember Cheslie Kryst in social media tributes:
Statement from Gov. Roy Cooper:
“Cheslie Kryst was a role model for so many here and around the country. Our prayers are with her family. Check in with your loved ones. If you feel overwhelmed, seek out help. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is available 24/7 at (1-800)-273-8255.”
Channel 9′s Glenn Counts spoke with people in the community who knew and loved Cheslie.
“I called her my doppelganger because obviously we were twins; well, no doubt. We called each other twins except for everything,” Bea Cote, a friend of Cheslie’s, said. “Just a real, sweet, funny, smart and beautiful person.”
Bea Cote is the executive director of Impact Family Violence Services. She said she met Cheslie in a leadership class three years ago and they became very close friends.
Cote said she was stunned over the weekend to learn that her friend had taken her own life.
“Disbelief. Disbelief because I, like most other people, fell for that. She’s got it all, she’s doing it all and she’s got this,” Cote said.
Cote said when she first met Cheslie, she was so down-to-earth that she had no idea that she was competing in beauty pageants.
Cote said no matter how famous Cheslie got, she never lost her humility.
Curry Barr O’Connor is the director of Dress for Success. She said she spent a lot of hours with Cheslie.
O’Connor said one of Cheslie’s favorite causes was to help prepare the underprivileged with professional work attire and interview skills to land a job.
“She gave clients exposure to someone at that level that they would have never had otherwise, and in a very one-on-one, humbling kind of exchange,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor said she was caught off-guard by Cheslie’s death and said the hurt will last for a long time.
“Her legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of everyone she touched and everyone she met,” O’Connor said.
(WATCH BELOW: Former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst thanks her hometown Charlotte, NC)
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