Sheriff: Lead bullet fatally struck 'Rust' cinematographer; 500 rounds of ammo recovered on set

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When Alec Baldwin removed the vintage Colt .45 revolver from its holster and pointed it toward the camera in an Old West-style church on a New Mexico ranch last week, crew members believed the gun was loaded with dummy rounds, according to a search warrant affidavit filed on Wednesday and a Times interview with a crew member who was in the room at the time of the shooting.

A dummy round, which contains no gunpowder and doesn't fire, would look nearly identical to a real round with a bullet when the camera peered down the barrel of the revolver the actor was holding, with none of the lethal capabilities.

But the projectile that discharged and fatally wounded cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza on the "Rust" set was a lead bullet, Santa Fe authorities announced Wednesday.

According to the affidavit, first assistant director Dave Halls told investigators that he did not check all the rounds in the gun before it was handed to Baldwin — a major breach of safety protocol.

The deadly projectile was recovered from Souza's shoulder at an area hospital, Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said during a news conference.

Two other people handled the firearm besides Baldwin: production armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed and Halls, according to Mendoza.

According to the affidavit, Gutierrez Reed — who was in charge of overseeing gun safety and usage on set — said on the day of the incident that she had ensured that the ammunition intended for production consisted of “dummies” and did not include "hot" rounds.

According to the affidavit, Gutierrez Reed also told investigators that live ammunition was never kept on set. But the roughly 500 rounds of ammunition recovered by authorities from the set included a mixture of “blanks, dummy rounds and what we are suspecting were live rounds,” Mendoza said Wednesday.

Mendoza said three firearms were recovered from the set. The weapon Baldwin fired was an FD Pietta Colt .45 revolver. The other weapons were a single action Army revolver with a modified cylinder, which may not have been able to fire rounds, and an inoperable plastic Colt .45 revolver.

Baldwin was playing an outlaw in 1880s Kansas in "Rust," wielding popular frontier firearms.

The crew member in the room, who was not authorized to speak on the record, said it was immediately clear in the aftermath of the shooting that a live round with a bullet had been fired.

“There’s no way it was anything but a bullet that did this kind of damage,” the individual said, recalling how Hutchins “immediately dropped like a sack. ... I was looking right at her, I could see an exit wound that immediately started pouring blood.”

The individual did not immediately realize that Souza had also been shot.

Souza, who was behind Hutchins at the time, sustained a gunshot wound to the shoulder and was treated at a Santa Fe hospital and released Friday. Hutchins was airlifted to a hospital with a trauma center in Albuquerque, where she was pronounced dead.

Additional rounds were found inside the weapon Baldwin fired, according to Mendoza, though it wasn't clear what type of rounds they were. The ammunition recovered will be submitted to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Va., for analysis, authorities said.

Halls told investigators that his typical on-set safety protocol included him checking the gun barrel for “obstructions” before Gutierrez Reed opens the hatch of the weapon and spins its drum, the cylindrical rotating part of the gun that holds the rounds.

On the day of the incident, Halls told a detective, he thought he saw three rounds and acknowledged that “he should have checked all of them, but didn’t.” He also said he did not remember if Gutierrez Reed had spun the weapon’s drum, according to the affidavit.

According to an earlier affidavit filed by the Sheriff’s Office, Halls allegedly yelled “cold gun,” meaning the weapon was not loaded, as he was handing it to Baldwin. But the crew member who spoke to The Times remembers Gutierrez Reed as being the one to have pronounced the gun “cold.” A gun loaded with dummy rounds would be considered "cold" on a film set.

Though they appear almost identical to a real round with a bullet, dummy rounds typically have a small hole drilled into them or an indentation showing that the primer at the rear of the casing has been punched and is inert. They also contain a BB pellet, which makes a rattling sound when the round is shaken.

Michael Risoli, a first assistant director who has worked on “Sons of Anarchy,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and the western “Miracle Workers,” said that first assistant directors shouldn't be physically handling the gun, but they are required to watch as the armorer checks the rounds.

According to Risoli, one can visually check for the hole or indentation on a dummy, though he prefers to have the armorer take each round and shake it as they're loading the gun, so he can hear the signature rattling sound a dummy makes, proving there is no gunpowder in the round.

"It takes seconds to do," Risoli said of watching as an armorer shakes each round for confirmation before loading it. "A good armorer will force the issue if the first AD is being lax and say, 'You need to check these guns.'"

It remains unclear where the live bullets came from, but the Sheriff's Office is investigating rumors that members of the crew may have engaged in recreational shooting on the ranch property, according to Mendoza.

Mendoza was joined at the Wednesday press conference by New Mexico 1st Judicial Dist. Atty. Mary Carmack-Altwies, who will ultimately decide what, if any, criminal charges will be filed in the case.

While she acknowledged the case was legally "complex," Carmack-Altwies declined to comment on any potential charges or provide a timeline of when she might reach a decision. The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office's investigation of the shooting is active, according to Mendoza, who said his detectives have several witnesses they still need to interview.

“If the facts and evidence and law support charges, then I will initiate prosecution at that time,” Carmack-Altwies said. “I'm a prosecutor that was elected, in part, because I do not make rash decisions and I do not rush to judgment.”

When asked whether Baldwin could potentially face criminal charges, Carmack-Altwies said that “all options are on the table at this point,” stressing that she would not speculate about who, if anyone, might be legally culpable in the shooting.

The tragedy comes amid a broader reckoning around working conditions and safety on film sets.

Hours before the shooting, several members of the crew walked off set in protest of what they said were long hours, long commutes and long waits for paychecks, as well as a lack of safety protocols that resulted in multiple accidental discharges of prop guns prior to the fatal incident last Thursday.

Safety protocols that are standard in the industry, including gun inspections, were not strictly followed on the set, several crew members told the Los Angeles Times on Friday. The crew was 12 days into a 21-day shoot for the low-budget independent film when production was halted.

Halls has also come under scrutiny before. In 2019, he was fired from the film “Freedom’s Path” after a crew member had a minor and temporary injury when a prop gun “unexpectedly discharged,” according to a producer from the film who declined to be named because he was not authorized to comment.

“Rust” was just the second feature film that Gutierrez Reed had worked on as lead armorer. Questions have been raised about her lack of experience and recent behavior handling weapons.

Mendoza said that it would be up to the district attorney to determine whether accusations that have been made about unsafe practices and negligence on other sets that Halls and Gutierrez Reed previously worked on would be taken into account as she assessed possible charges.

"We are going to follow up on some of those statements that are made, that there were other incidents," Mendoza said, urging anyone who might have information to contact the Sheriff's Office.

"I think there was some complacency on the set, and I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry and possibly by the state of New Mexico," Mendoza said.

Wick reported from Santa Fe, N.M. Queally reported from Los Angeles. Times staff writers Meg James, Amy Kaufman and Connor Sheets contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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