Cheslie Kryst, who won the Miss USA sash in 2019, has died after a fall from her high-rise Manhattan apartment building. She was 30.
Her family confirmed Kryst’s death in a Sunday statement. “Her great light was one that inspired others around the world with her beauty and strength,” it read. “She cared, she loved, she laughed and she shined.” The family said that the pageant-winner had “embodied love and served others” and that “her impact will live on.”
Her body was found on the sidewalk outside the Orion Condominium building in Midtown just after 7 a.m. Kryst lived on the ninth floor of the building, according to the New York Post. She was last seen on a terrace 29 stories above the ground.
Though her family did not provide a cause of death, sources in the New York Police Department have confirmed that Kryst had died by suicide, according to the Post and The Hollywood Reporter. The Post reported that Kryst had left behind a note leaving her possessions to her mother.
“May this day bring you peace and rest,” Kryst wrote in an Instagram caption posted just hours before her fatal fall.
In a phone interview with the New York Daily News, Kryst’s grandfather, Gary Fimpkins, recalled her “infectious” laugh and “generous” spirit.
“She was such a fantastic person,” he said. “She felt for other people. She tried to help other people. She was just one of those rare people that had a heart for people.”
“To be extinguished so fast is just devastating,” the grandfather added. “So hard to imagine one minute they’re here and one minute they’re not. And you know that the only [way] you’ll ever see them again is when you yourself pass away.”
Following news of her death, tributes from friends and fans poured in. “Rest peacefully sister,” Olivia Jordan, who won the Miss USA title in 2015, wrote on Kryst’s final Instagram post. “The world will miss you and the light you shone so bright.”
The 30-year-old began competing in pageants as a teenager, following in the footsteps of her mother, April Simpkins, who was crowned Mrs. North Carolina US in 2002. Kryst remembered being in middle school and watching Simpkins “clean up all these awards” in a 2020 interview with The Charlotte Observer.
“I didn’t have a lot of friends, I was a nerdy weird kid who just liked to read during class, and it was so cool that people knew my name because of my mom,” she said. “And so from that moment, I knew I was going to compete at some point in time.”
Kryst won the Miss USA title in 2019, just months after she’d clinched the Miss North Carolina USA crown. While competing, she remembered in a 2021 essay for Allure magazine, she spoke openly about her views “on the legalization of marijuana, the Trump Administration’s immigration policies, anti-abortion laws, the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and the successes and failures of criminal justice reform.”
“I openly supported the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and marched in protests over the summer,” Kryst continued. “I wasn’t searching to collect more awards or recognition during my reign. Rather, I fed the passion that made waking up each morning feel worthwhile: speaking out against injustice.”
At 28 years old, Kryst became the oldest woman to ever be crowned Miss USA. She went on to also become the longest-reigning victor, thanks to delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, holding the title for a record 557 days.
Your #MissUSA 2019 is… NORTH CAROLINA! 👑
— Miss USA (@MissUSA) May 3, 2019
Outside of pageantry, Kryst practiced as a civil litigation attorney, having earned her law degree and an MBA from Wake Forest University. She worked as a global impact ambassador with Dress for Success, a nonprofit supporting low-income women searching for jobs, and wrote about business attire on a blog called White Collar Glam.
After her Miss USA win, Kryst also became a New York correspondent for celebrity and entertainment program Extra. Her work on the show garnered her two Daytime Emmy nominations.
“Our hearts are broken,” a Sunday statement from Extra read. “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.”
In her Allure essay, Kryst said she felt “giddy” about “laying the groundwork” for her future. Having hit her third decade, Kryst wrote, she was “searching for joy and purpose on my own terms—and that feels like my own sweet victory.”