OKEECHOBEE — For three days and nights, a small army of deputies and volunteers searched for Jean Odney Alexandre of Immokalee in the vast rural northwestern area of Okeechobee County known locally as the Prairie. Alexandre was first reported missing on Aug. 24 following a palmetto berry picking trip.
Helicopters, K-9 units, four-wheelers and a posse of cowboys on horseback assembled by the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office combed through the dense, wild terrain in the Prairie in search of the missing man.
Thousands of people in Okeechobee had shared and re-shared the picture of Alexandre on social media and with friends, hoping and praying the man was found. In the early morning hours of Aug. 27, those prayers were answered.
The 65-year-old had fought through and survived three days of suffocating South Cemtral Florida heat and managed to find his way through the rough terrain to the ranger station at Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. A short time later, Alexandre was reunited with his family at the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office.
Alexandre had been picked up by a friend, 56-year-old Mauricet Etienne, at 5 a.m. Aug. 25 to pick palmetto berries with a small group from Immokalee. According to the incident report from the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Mauricet reported that things were fine until approximately 2 p.m., when he couldn’t locate Alexandre in the area where they were picking berries. Mauricet searched for Alexandre for three hours to no avail. At that point he contacted Alexandre’s wife, Marie, to tell her that Jean was lost.
Marie asked Etienne to come pick her up in Immokalee, which he did. The two then searched for Jean for nearly an hour.
After searching and not finding her husband, Marie called the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. Etienne later told deputies that he should have called law enforcement earlier, but was frightened due to previously being told to leave the area that he and Alexandre were picking berries in. (The Prairie is private property and picking palmetto berries is illegal without written permission of the landowner.)
Once Collier County deputies received the call, the word was put out about the missing man in Okeechobee, and search parties began forming.
The Department of Forestry, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Wildlife Commission and Collier County Sheriff’s Office provided helicopters that searched from the skies, while others on the ground searched on horseback, on buggies and on foot.
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, Alexandre’s son, Mackensie Alexander (different name spellings), was receiving word about his missing father.
Mackensie is a starting cornerback in the NFL for the Cincinnati Bengals and former standout at Immokalee High School. Upon hearing the news about his father, Mackensie left the Bengals’ training camp to return to Florida.
Once he was back in the area, Mackensie and his friend, Eveins Clement, went to Etienne to ask about what had happened to his father. Etienne let the two into his residence and they began to interrogate him on what occurred on the berry picking trip.
The pair attempted to convince Etienne to come with them in their vehicle, but when he refused out of fear of retaliation, Clement held Etienne down while Alexander struck him several time in the face with a closed fist.
According to the report filed by the Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Etienne suffered cuts to his lip and forehead from the incident. The two were arrested and charged with battery.
“This is a very, very concerned son,” said Makensie’s attorney Brian Pakett in an interview to Sports Illustrated’s AllBengals.com. “He loves his father, and that’s what this is about. That is his sole concern in the matter is the well-being of his father. He’s been fully cooperative with the police.”
Alexander and Clements were released after paying a $2,000 bond.
After Jean Alexandre found his way to the ranger station and was discovered, Okeechobee County Sheriff Noel E. Stephen thanked all the agencies that had responded to the call for help.
“Thank you to the many volunteers, Kissimmee State Park, Florida Highway Patrol, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s K9, Okeechobee Correctional Institution K9, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s K9, Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Posse, deputies and detectives,” said Sheriff Stephen. “Great results due to great teamwork. Thank you to each and every agency, department, group and individual who assisted us.”