‘Rust’ assistant director admits he didn’t check all rounds in gun before fatal shooting
Crew members on the set of “Rust” believed that the lead bullet that fatally wounded cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Thursday was supposed to be a dummy round, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday and a Los Angeles Times interview with a crew member who was in the Western set’s church at the time of the shooting.
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 actor and producer Alec Baldwin — a major breach of safety protocol.
Dummy rounds, which are sometimes used on sets, are designed to look like real bullets but contain no gunpowder. They can be used in close-up shots for effect.
According to a crew member, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak on record, the shot being rehearsed at the time of the shooting was intended to be a close-up that would show Baldwin’s hand and holster and look down the barrel of the revolver.
Dummy rounds can be used in shots where the camera is pointed down the barrel of a gun, because they appear almost identical to a real bullet. But dummies typically have a small hole drilled into them or there is an indentation showing that the primer at the rear of the casing has been punched and is inert.
According to the affidavit, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed — who was in charge of overseeing gun safety and usage on set — said on the day of the incident, she had ensured that the ammunition intended for production were “dummies” and did not include “‘hot’ rounds.”
According to the affidavit, Gutierrez Reed also told investigators that live ammo was never kept on set. Investigators said Wednesday that they recovered roughly 500 rounds of ammunition from the set — a mixture of “blanks, dummy rounds and what we are suspecting were live rounds,” according to Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza.
During lunch, Gutierrez Reed said, the firearms were secured in a safe with a combination on a white prop truck that only “a few people” have access to. But the ammunition was left on a cart during the meal and “not secured.”
Property master Sarah Zachry retrieved the firearms from the safe following lunch, Gutierrez Reed said. During filming, the armorer said, she gave the gun to Baldwin “a couple times” as well as to Halls.
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 the detective, he thought he saw three rounds and acknowledged that “he should have checked all of them, but didn’t.” He also did not remember if Gutierrez Reed had spun the weapon’s drum.
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 remembers Gutierrez Reed as being the one to have pronounced the gun “cold.”
Dummy rounds require serious safety precautions because they more closely resemble an actual bullet than a blank does. Multiple film professionals familiar with weapons handling on film sets said guns loaded with dummy rounds are considered “cold” because they cannot fire.
But somehow a live bullet had been loaded into the gun, defying all gun handling and safety protocols. The shooting occurred when Baldwin was practicing removing the revolver from its holster and pointing it toward the camera, according to the earlier affidavit. Hutchins was fatally struck in the chest and director Joel Souza, who was behind her, was hit in the shoulder.
Authorities only confirmed on Wednesday morning that the round that fatally wounded Hutchins and also injured Souza was, in fact, a lead bullet. But the crew member, who was standing about a dozen feet away, said it was immediately clear to them in the aftermath of the shooting.
“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.
The person described the thought of having a live round on set as “so far off the realm of what’s wrong and bad. In this business, if you get caught on a location or a set with a single live ammunition round on a set that they’re doing guns, [and] they have armorers, you’re fired immediately.”
Wick reported from Santa Fe, N.M. Kaufman reported from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Jessica Gelt contributed to this report.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars, was killed on the set of ‘Rust.’ Here’s everything we know so far.
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