‘Rust’ shooting investigation latest: Q&A with the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza at a microphone with other sheriff's deputies and a man and a woman in dark suite.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza speaks to the media Wednesday about the “Rust” set shooting. Afterward, the sheriff’s office clarified details in the case for The Times.
(Associated Press)

As detectives were serving a third search warrant on the set of the film “Rust” late Wednesday afternoon, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office provided The Times with an exclusive update on the investigation of the on-set shooting last week that left one crew member dead and another injured.

After Sheriff Adan Mendoza and Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies addressed the media in their first joint press conference since the shooting, sheriff’s office spokesman Juan Rios provided new details to The Times about the investigation.

He answered questions about interviews conducted by detectives, the gun fired by “Rust” actor and producer Alec Baldwin and the bullet it discharged, and rumors about target shooting on set. Here’s what Rios told The Times on Wednesday:


How many people have investigators interviewed to date?

As of late Wednesday afternoon, detectives from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office had interviewed 23 of about 100 people who were on the “Rust” set at the time of the shooting, Rios said.

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“There is a general witness universe that we’re looking at right now,” he said. “We’ve interviewed everyone that was inside the church, 16 people total who were in the church” that was part of the location.

Which key players have been interviewed?

Rios said that investigators have interviewed Baldwin; David Halls, the “Rust” assistant director who reportedly handed Baldwin the gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza; and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer who was in charge of the gun. Rios declined to provide additional names of people who have been interviewed.


What do detectives know about the gun that Baldwin fired?

Rios said the term “prop gun,” which has been used in many reports about the shooting, can be misleading because it is a film industry term. He said it is used to describe any guns used in films, whether “a plastic gun or an actual firearm that fires bullets.”

“It doesn’t refer to a prop like props you use, like make-believe props. It refers to property of the production. That’s within the industry, how that’s defined,” Rios said.

“When we’re speaking about the actual firearm that the sheriff’s office and its investigators believe fired that bullet, it was an actual firearm. It was a real firearm that fired a bullet.”

Asked about the guns detectives recovered at the scene, he said, “There were three revolvers: One was functioning, one was plastic and one with undetermined functionality.”

What do investigators know about the bullet that struck Hutchins and Souza?

Contrary to speculation that the projectile that struck Hutchins and Souza may have been a piece of debris or a blank, Rios said detectives believe that the projectile was a real bullet.

“It’s a piece of lead, it’s a bullet,” he said. “The casing for that bullet along with the bullet will be part of the forensics that’s being completed by the FBI. As far as we can tell, it’s a real bullet.”

What path did the bullet take and how was it recovered by detectives?

Rios said that after the bullet left the barrel of the gun, it traveled through Hutchins’ body and into Souza. Detectives recovered the bullet at the emergency room where Souza was treated for his wound.

“We recovered the projectile from the medical personnel at the hospital because it was extracted from [Souza’s] body,” Rios said. “It was medical personnel who removed the projectile from his body and turned it over to investigators, and it’s now evidence.”

Did people working on “Rust” engage in target shooting on or near the set, and were live rounds in the gun for that purpose?

Rios said he could not confirm or deny whether the sheriff’s office has encountered evidence of target shooting by members of the “Rust” cast, production team or crew.

“We are looking into that,” he said, acknowledging that detectives are aware of rumors of on-set target shooting. “We encourage anybody who has any information about that kind of activity taking place to please contact our investigators so we can have a conversation with them.”

Is the sheriff’s office working with anyone in the film industry as it investigates the shooting?

When asked if consultants or others from the film industry were involved in the investigation, Rios said, “I think that right now it’s confined to the detectives that have been assigned the case — the ones working on it.”

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