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On Oct. 21, 2021, on the set of the movie “Rust” near Santa Fe, a prop gun wielded by actor Alec Baldwin went off, killing director of photography Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. On Thursday, the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office announced it would charge Baldwin and the production’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, with involuntary manslaughter.
Q: What is involuntary manslaughter?
A: According to District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony in New Mexico. It involves either the unintentional killing of a person as a result of negligence, or the unintentional killing of a person while in the commission of a crime. Each carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000, with firearm enhancements possibly increasing the penalty to a mandatory five years in prison.
Carmack-Altwies is charging Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed “in the alternative,” meaning that a jury would decide which of the two given definitions applies should they return with a guilty verdict.
Q: What is an armorer?
A: An armorer on a movie set is charged with handling the production’s weapons and ensures that the weapons are used safely during filming, according to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. In Gutierrez-Reed’s case, this included loading the firearms used for filming.
Investigators say Gutierrez-Reed was negligent in maintaining the film’s armory and that they found live ammunition mixed with dummy rounds in an ammo box and other ammunition scattered around the set.
Q: How rare are these incidents?
A: Fatal accidents on movie sets are rare, but not unheard of. The Associated Press estimated that, from 1990 to 2016, at least 43 people had died on U.S. movie sets. Deaths from firearms in these cases appear to make up a minority, but one of the most notable was the death of Brandon Lee on the set of “The Crow.”
Q: Some have noted the similarities between the fatal shooting of Brandon Lee during the filming of “The Crow” and the “Rust” shooting. What are the similarities and differences?
A: In 1993, a fatal firearm accident on the Wilmington, North Carolina, set of the movie “The Crow” killed Brandon Lee, an actor and the son of martial artist Bruce Lee, in one of the most infamous production accidents in Hollywood history. No charges were filed in that case. In Lee’s death, the firing of a blank cartridge in the set’s firearm pushed a bullet tip lodged in the gun’s barrel out as a projectile, striking and killing Lee, according to The New York Times. In the “Rust” shooting, the gun was loaded with live ammunition, despite Assistant Director Dave Halls declaring the gun “cold,” or unloaded, before handing it to Baldwin.
Q: What were the circumstances surrounding the “Rust” shooting?
A: The shooting took place at Bonanza Creek Ranch inside of an old church on the property. After receiving the gun from Halls, Baldwin practiced a cross-draw — drawing a firearm with the dominant hand from the opposite side of the body — when the gun went off, striking both Hutchins and Souza with a live round. Baldwin denied pulling the trigger, but a forensic investigation determined that the gun could not have fired without the trigger being pulled, prosecutors say.
Investigators found that there were at least two misfires on set before the fatal shooting, and that cameraman Lane Luper resigned, citing dangerous set conditions, a day before the fatal shooting.
Q: What happens next?
A: According to Carmack-Altwies, summons will be issued and both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be required to make a “first appearance” in court. This appearance could be done virtually or waived entirely.
Afterward, the case will be presented to a judge who will decide during a preliminary hearing whether the case will go to trial.