Tragedy in New Mexico: What We Know About the ‘Rust’ Set Shooting

The production of the upcoming Western film Rust was “suspended indefinitely” on Thursday, after a prop gun fired by actor Alec Baldwin killed the project’s cinematographer and injured its director.

On Oct. 21, at 1:50 MT in the ghost town of Bonanza Creek, NM, director of photography Halyna Hutchins, 43, died after being apparently accidentally shot by lead actor and producer Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal; director Joel Souza was also injured, and is expected to recover.

“There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours,” tweeted Baldwin on Oct. 22. “I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna.”

According to an affidavit released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office on Oct. 24, Souza explained that the scene, a gunfight taking place inside a church, involved the use of a prop gun in a shot which had Baldwin pointing the weapon directly at the camera. The gun then discharged and a single live round struck Hutchins in the chest and Souza in the collarbone, which ultimately killed Hutchins.

Right before the shooting, assistant director David Halls reportedly handed the loaded firearm to Baldwin, yelling “cold gun” to announce the prop was free from danger.

The incident on the set of Rust has, since it happened, sparked a vigorous debate on the nature of safe use of weapons in the entertainment industry; the shooting comes amidst an already tumultuous past few months for Hollywood technical workers, as the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), the largest union of film crew workers in the world, recently weighed the possibility of striking for better working conditions, hours, and pay. In fact, reports indicate that the set of Rust was troubled by safety concerns in a few different ways before the incident.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office revealed that investigators found a fanny pack containing loose and packaged ammunition near the site of the shooting.

According to the Los Angeles Times, crew members of Rust were ostensibly to stay in hotel rooms in Santa Fe; however, protocol was allegedly changed and the crew would be required to individually drive from Albuquerque, a 50-mile trip to Bonanza Creek, instead. This angered many of the crew, who threatened to walk off the production. A producer then allegedly told some of the camera crew to leave, replacing them with non-IATSE crew.

The crew had supposedly also become increasingly concerned about the production’s safety after Baldwin’s stunt double had accidentally discharged two live rounds from a prop gun earlier in the week, himself also having been told “cold gun”—indicating there was no ammunition, live or blank, loaded in the weapon.

It’s unclear who, if anyone, will be charged with a crime in Hutchins’ death. For one, Alec Baldwin, as a producer on Rust, is in a way partly responsible for the safety of cast and crew on set of their film; this is separate even from Baldwin’s possible culpability as an actor.

Halls, the assistant director who physically handed the gun to Baldwin, could also face legal trouble, as his judgment determined whether or not the gun was capable of causing bodily harm. Further, the implication here is that, since the gun was being handled by someone other than the weapons master/armorer, there was some form of irresponsibility on Halls’ part. CBS News reported that Halls had been fired from another set once before—for a different incident related to a gun firing after being declared “cold.”

Additionally, several news outlets reported that the production’s head armorer, 24-year-old Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, had recently voiced her anxiety on the podcast Voice of the West about working as head armorer on her first film, The Old Way, before Rust.

“It was a really badass way to start off a really long and cool career, I’m hoping,” said Gutierrez-Reed about The Old Way. “It was also my first time being head armorer as well. You know, I was really nervous about it at first, and I almost didn’t take the job because I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but, doing it, like, it went really smoothly.”

It was an accident, yes, and a tragedy for all involved; however this incident could have been prevented with the right measures. Under tragic circumstances, the shooting on the set of Rust has brought to light important conversations regarding safe working conditions for those who work in the entertainment industry.