The death of Brandon Lee in a filming incident took a startling turn Thursday when police revealed the actor was killed by what was apparently a .44-caliber bullet.
What appeared to be a bullet was discovered lodged near Lee’s spine during an autopsy, calling into question the safety procedures on the set of the film.
Detectives from the Wilmington Police Department said that they are still treating Lee’s death as an accidental shooting. They said that they recovered the .44-caliber handgun from the movie set along with what appeared to be two spent casings, one from a blank round and the other from a “dummy” bullet used in the filming. In filming, “dummy” rounds, which look like real bullets, are placed in the cylinder of guns for close-up shots so they appear to be loaded.
Police said it will be at least a week before laboratory analysis will be complete to determine the specific nature of the material found in Lee’s body.
Lee, 28, was the son of the late martial arts star Bruce Lee. The accident occurred on Soundstage 4 of Carolco Studios, where the $14-million action film “The Crow,” was entering its final week of production. Officials at Carolco and others involved with the movie have declined to discuss the events leading up to the scene in which Lee was killed. They also refused to answer any questions regarding safety procedures in place for such action scenes.
In the film, Lee portrayed a character who is killed by a drug gang and then returns to avenge his own death. Ironically, the incident, which occurred early Wednesday morning, happened during the filming of the scene where Lee’s character actually dies.
In the scene, Lee walked through a doorway carrying a bag of groceries and was shot one time by the actor Michael Massee, playing a villain in the film. At the moment of the shooting, Lee pulled a trigger hidden behind the grocery bag to set off “squib,” a small explosive device designed to create the appearance of the sack bursting when struck by a bullet. After setting off the squib, Lee collapsed on the set, bleeding profusely from the right side of his abdomen. He was rushed to New Hanover Regional Medical Center, where he died after five hours of surgery and after receiving 60 units of blood.
Initially, there was speculation that the explosion of the squib so close to Lee’s body caused his injury.
But Det. Rodney Simmons of the Wilmington Police Department, who was the first officer at the scene, said that Lee’s injury appeared to him to be a gunshot wound. Simmons said the detectives reviewed videotape made of the scene during filming, which also indicated that Lee’s right side was in line with the angle of the pistol that was fired for the scene.
Simmons said that when he arrived at the set shortly after 2 a.m. Wednesday, technicians on the set had unloaded the gun and placed it and the spent shell of a blank round into a plastic bag. Simmons said that in talking to a special-effects man, who he would not identify, he learned that one of the dummy shells in the guncase was missing the slug from its tip.
Simmons said his interview of the special-effects person raised the possibility that the gun was loaded with the dummy bullet for a close-up shot and when the gun was unloaded the slug had become dislodged from the dummy shell casing and the tip had remained in the cylinder or the barrel. When the blank round was then inserted, the pistol could have discharged like a loaded firearm.
“One of the lead slugs could have come off its casing and lodged in the gun,” Simmons said. Simmons said that his initial investigation found that the gun had been loaded by the special-effects person, not by Massee, the actor who fired the weapon. Simons said that Massee told him that when the gun discharged in the scene, the kick felt the same as it had when he had fired blanks in previous scenes in the movie.
The detective said, in investigating the possibility of foul play, he had asked those on the set about any possibility of any animosity toward Lee and was told there was no signs of ill feelings.
The film was being produced by Robert Rosen and directed by Alex Proyas, both of whom where reportedly on the set when the incident occurred. Rosen issued a statement Thursday expressing deep sympathy for Lee’s family and his fiancee Eliza Hutton, whom Lee was to marry in two weeks. Rosen added that no decision has been made about when or even whether the film would be completed.
“All the creative principals will be discussing where the production goes from here,” Rosen said. “However we are all mourning our friend Brandon and time is needed before we come to final decisions.”
A spokesman for the production said that he was not aware of any independent investigation into the incident by attorneys or investigators for the production company.