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This last year has been an amazing year for Jennifer Hudson. Besides enjoying a career high that currently includes a starring role in the film The Secret Life of Bees, and her self-titled debut album, the Oscar-winning actress became engaged to fiance David Otunga. Life couldn’t have looked better for the girl who first got her start as an American Idol castoff.

But on Oct. 24, Hudson’s luck took a tragic turn as news broke of the brutal murders of her mother, Darnell Donerson, 57, and big brother, Jason Hudson, 29. The two were found shot to death in their home on Chicago’s South Side. Jennifer’s 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, was missing.

 

The actress flew from Florida where she’d been promoting The Secret Life of Bees, to Chicago to aid in the search for the second grader. On Oct. 25, Jennifer offered a $100,000 reward for Julian’s return, along with a heartwrenching plea on her Web Site, "Please keep praying for our family and that we get Julian King back home safely," she wrote.

Sadly, the family’s worst nightmare came true on Oct. 27, when police discovered Julian’s lifeless body in the back seat of a 1994 white Chevrolet Suburban which they said had been taken from the murder scene three days earlier. On the day she was supposed to launch a world tour for her self-titled debut CD, Jennifer instead had to sit in the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, waiting for officials to identify the body of her little nephew.

"At 27, Jennifer was on the top of the world–Oscars, honors, accolades–and someone just stole her dream away," Jenifer Lewis of Broadway’s original cast of Dreamgirls told OK!.

Jennifer, along with three other relatives, had the catastophic task of confirming that the victim’s body was Julian’s before authorities announced the determinations. An autopsy was scheduled for Oct. 28, the cause of death believed to be multiple gunshot wounds.

On Oct. 24, police picked up Hudson’s brother-in-law and Julian’s step-father, William Balfour, 27. An ex-con who spent 7 years in jail for, among other crimes, attempted murder, Balfour has since been turned over to state officials for a parole violation, which will keep him behind bars while the case is being investigated. While no charges have been filed, police are calling Balfour a "person of interest."

 

As for Jennifer’s state of mind, a friend tells OK! that the actress is doing her best to keep it together for her remaining relatives.

"Jennifer only has her sister left — they need to move on together," Hudson’s pal Marco tells OK!. "But she is a very strong lady. With her family, friends and fans standing behind her, she will get through this."

For the entire story on Jennifer Hudson’s family nightmare, pick up the new OK! — on newsstands everywhere on Thursday.

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