Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
SANTA FE — Assistant director David Halls and armorer Hannah Gutierrez had a routine on the set of “Rust.” Halls told deputies he would check the gun barrel for obstructions, Gutierrez would spin the cylinder to check the revolver for ammunition and — if determined safe — he would say “cold gun on set.”
But during a rehearsal in an old church on set Oct. 21, Halls couldn’t remember if Gutierrez spun the cylinder and said he didn’t check all the rounds inside the Pietta Long Colt .45 revolver before handing it to actor Alec Baldwin, according to court documents. Halls told deputies, in hindsight, he should have checked.
When Baldwin pulled the trigger, authorities say, a lead bullet killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza on the set at Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe.
Halls told deputies when he checked the gun after, he saw four “dummy” casings with holes in the side and a fifth casing from a live round.
“It was not a deliberate act,” Halls told deputies.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza said during a news conference Wednesday morning that investigators recovered the projectile that embedded in Souza’s shoulder. He said investigators also found hundreds of rounds of ammunition on the set, including dummy rounds, blank rounds and “live rounds.”
Mendoza said investigators believe the round fired by Baldwin was real and the only live round in the gun.
“We would consider it a live round — a bullet — because it did fire from the weapon,” he said during the news conference attended by dozens of reporters and cameramen from across the globe, many of them shouting over each other in attempts to get questions answered.
Mendoza said the recovered projectile — along with the other ammunition found and three guns — will be sent to the FBI crime lab for analysis. Two of the guns, including a plastic one, are believed to be nonfunctioning.
He said it’s too early in the investigation to comment on possible charges.
“If the sheriff’s office determines during our investigation (that) a crime has occurred and probable cause exists, an arrest or arrests will be made and charges will be filed,” Mendoza said. He said Gutierrez, Halls and Baldwin were cooperating with investigators.
Complacency on set
The news conference and a third search warrant filed in Santa Fe Magistrate Court Wednesday shined light on the deadly shooting that has captured international headlines. They revealed concerns among “Rust” cast and crew about previous gun mishaps and safety on the set leading up to the incident.
Mendoza wouldn’t comment on how live ammunition made it onto the set.
“We’re going to try and determine exactly how that happened and if they should’ve known that there was a live round in that firearm,” he said.
Mendoza didn’t directly address reports the gun involved in the fatal shooting was being used for target practice hours before the incident except to say investigators will look into those claims.
“I think the industry, recently, has had a record of being safe,” he said. “I think there was some complacency on this 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.”
First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said her office will ensure that the investigation is conducted “to the highest standards.”
“I do not make rash decisions and I do not rush to judgement, I rely on facts supported by evidence (and) cooperative and credible witnesses,” she said. “I cannot stress the importance of allowing the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office to continue with their quality investigation.”
When asked if Baldwin himself could face charges, Carmack-Altwies said, “I’m not commenting on charges, whether they will be filed or not, or on who — we cannot answer that question — no one has been ruled out at this point.”
According to a search warrant affidavit filed in Santa Fe Magistrate Court:
Deputies responded around 1:50 p.m. to a shooting on the movie set and were advised two people were accidentally shot inside an old church. Authorities learned the cast was rehearsing and Baldwin was practicing a cross-draw on a wooden pew.
Halls grabbed one of three prop guns set on a cart by Gutierrez, yelled “cold gun” and handed it to Baldwin. Mendoza said Wednesday that deputies believe the other two guns on the cart were nonfunctioning and one was made of plastic.
When Baldwin pulled the trigger, Hutchins was shot in the chest and Souza was hit in the shoulder. Gutierrez told deputies she checked the ammunition earlier in the day to make sure they were “dummies” and not “hot rounds.”
She said when the crew broke for lunch the guns were put in a safe but the ammo was left unsecured on set. Gutierrez told deputies “no live ammo is ever kept on set.”
Halls told deputies that after the shooting, he picked up the gun and told Gutierrez to open it so he could see what was inside. He said he saw four “dummy” casings with a hole in the sides and one casing with no hole.
“He advised this round did not have the ‘cap’ on it and was just the casing,” the affidavit states.
Souza told deputies he is not sure the gun was checked again after they returned from lunch. He said nobody gets checked for live ammunition on set but there should never be live ammunition “whatsoever, near or around a scene.”
“Upon initial examination of the evidence collected, it appears live bullets were collected from the scene,” the affidavit states.
‘I kept seeing it spiral’
Even before principal photography began on “Rust,” one crew member said, something was amiss.
“There were never day-to-day schedules given in advance,” she said. “It was a cluster(expletive) and I kept seeing it spiral.”
The woman, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear that future productions may not hire her, said the inexperience of “Rust” producers manifested itself in day-to-day breakdowns.
“It was sloppy from the beginning,” she said.
After filming began, problems persisted.
Another crew member told the Journal he had concerns about the production long before the deadly incident. He said producers were cutting corners, hiring outsiders and rushing filming to save money on a low-budget movie.
The union member, who also requested anonymity, said Gutierrez did not hold safety meetings or announce whether guns were loaded or not, plastic or real. He said she would leave guns and ammunition unattended on the cart and regularly have the guns pointed at people.
“Automatically, you’re like ‘this person is green … they’re inexperienced,'” he said.
A few days before the shooting, the crew member said, a gun went off unexpectedly in the hand of Baldwin’s stunt double, scaring everyone. Making matters worse, he said, Gutierrez was “wearing two hats” on set as she was not only the armorer but also a prop assistant.
“We’re taught in the film industry — ‘you stay in your lane’ — that’s your craft. If she’s doing something wrong, it’s none of your business,” the crew member said. “It taught me a lesson though, moving forward I’m going to be more vocal.”
He said Halls’ actions concerned him a few times as well.
The crew member said Halls directed Hutchins, himself and others to get onto a rickety, second story before realizing it couldn’t support everyone. Another time, he said Halls had them keep filming a scene after a baby rattlesnake came out of a hole nearby.
On the day of the shooting, he said most of the crew was gathered outside the church.
“It didn’t sound like a gun to me. It just sounded like a pop. Like a firework. Nothing super loud,” the crew member said.
Then there was a scream and those outside thought maybe someone fell. He said the script supervisor ran out of the church yelling and trying to call 911.
The crew member said there was panic as nobody knew where to go or what to do. Some people yelled to get back to base camp. Others said that would impede the ambulance and police vehicles.
The crew member said that amid the chaos he spotted Halls and Gutierrez outside the church, both in tears.
“It’s one of those things where, if you say too much, you’re worried about your job security. And then if you don’t say anything, people get hurt,” he said. “Unfortunately, I didn’t say anything.”
Journal arts editor Adrian Gomez contributed to this report.