Armorer’s lawyers claim possible ‘sabotage’

November 3, 2021
Alec Baldwin speaks on the phone in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in Santa Fe, N.M., after he was questioned about a shooting on the set of the film "Rust" on the outskirts of Santa Fe, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, officials said.

Law enforcement is continuing its investigation into the fatal prop gun accident on the set of “Rust” that left the film’s cinematographer dead and the director injured.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office said last week the “actual lead projectile that was fired” has been recovered from “Rust” director Joel Souza‘s shoulder and is believed to be from a “live round” discharged by star Alec Baldwin on the set of the Western.

On Oct. 21, a helicopter transported cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead by medical personnel, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. Director Joel Souza, 48, was transported via ambulance to Christus St. Vincent’s hospital and later released.

On Wednesday, the lawyers for set armorer Hannah Gutierrez – one of two people to handle the firearm before Baldwin – suggested that someone may have intended to “sabotage” the set with the live bullet.

“We know there was a live round in a box of dummy rounds that shouldn’t have been there,” attorney Jason Bowles said in a “Today” show interview. “We have people who had left the set, who had walked out because they were disgruntled. We have a time frame between 11 (a.m.) and 1 (p.m.), approximately, that day, in which the firearms at times were unattended, so there was opportunity to tamper with this scene.” 

According to attorney Robert Gorence, the prop ammunition was left in a truck “that was completely unattended at all times, giving someone access and opportunity.” NBC News has not verified these allegations.

During the two hours that the firearms were allegedly left unattended, Gutierrez was not handling the guns, Gorence added. Instead, the gun was handed to assistant director Dave Halls.

“She had another duty and responsibility as key props assistant, and so she had gone to do that, right after she had provided the handgun to Mr. Halls,” Gorence said. “So Mr. Halls took custody of the weapon and at that point she was doing her other duties as key prop assistant.”

Gutierrez, Halls and Baldwin are all cooperating with the sheriff’s office.

“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,” Baldwin tweeted a day after the shooting.

Here’s everything we know about the fatal prop gun misfire and ensuing investigation.

Assistant director Dave Halls breaks silence on shooting

On Monday, Halls broke his silence on the incident in a statement to the New York Post.

“I’m shocked and saddened by her death,” he said. “It’s my hope that this tragedy prompts the industry to re-evaluate its values and practices to ensure no one is harmed through the creative process again.”

Halls didn’t provide details on what he thinks might be reformed or how changes might have helped avoid what happened on the set of “Rust.”

In an interview with Fox News on Monday, Halls’ attorney Lisa Torraco called the incident a “freak accident” and raised doubts about who handed Baldwin the gun on set.

“This idea that my client grabbed the gun off of a prop cart and handed it to Mr. Baldwin absolutely did not happen,” she said. But Torraco appeared to backpedal on this statement when pressed by host Martha MacCallum, refusing to give a direct answer when repeatedly asked if Halls was the last person to touch the gun before handing it to Baldwin. USA TODAY has reached out to Torraco for clarification.

“Expecting an assistant director to check a firearm is like telling the assistant director to check the camera angle,” Torraco told MacCallum. “That’s not the assistant director’s job.”

“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,” he wrote.

Could Alec Baldwin be charged? Who is liable in Halyna Hutchins’ death? Legal experts weigh in

Armorer has ‘no idea where the live round came from,’ lawyers say

Gutierrez spoke out for the first time Friday, saying she “has no idea where the live rounds came from,” according to a statement to USA TODAY from her lawyers, Bowles and Gorence.

“Safety is Hannah’s number one priority on set. Ultimately this set would never have been compromised if live ammo were not introduced,” the statement read. The lawyers also claim Gutierrez “has never had an accidental discharge,” noting “the first one on this set was the prop master and the second was a stunt man after Hannah informed him his gun was hot with blanks.”

The statement added: “Hannah was hired on two positions on this film, which made it extremely difficult to focus on her job as an armorer. She fought for training, days to maintain weapons and proper time to prepare for gunfire but ultimately was overruled by production and her department. The whole production set became unsafe due to various factors, including lack of safety meetings. This was not the fault of Hannah.”

Gutierrez also offered her condolences to the Hutchins family and said she was “devastated” and “completely beside herself” over the incident.

Officials say a ‘live round’ killed Halyna Hutchins

The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office said on Wednesday the “actual lead projectile that was fired” has been recovered from Souza’s shoulder and is believed to be from a “live round” discharged by Baldwin on the set.

Speaking at a news conference, Sheriff Adan Mendoza said his office believes the projectile that injured Souza is from the same “live round” that killed Hutchins.

“I think the facts are clear. A weapon was handed to Mr. Baldwin. The weapon is functional, and fired a live round, killing Ms. Hutchins and injuring Mr. Souza,” Mendoza said.

As to how a live round was placed and not discovered in the .45 Long Colt revolver that Baldwin was using for the Western, Mendoza said the investigation is continuing. There was a small number of people directly nearby during the incident, and there was “no footage” of the rehearsal. The sheriff’s office is continuing to interview the roughly 100 people who worked on the movie set.

Mendoza said hundreds of rounds recovered on the “Rust” set were a mixture of “blanks, dummy rounds and what we are suspecting were live rounds.”

District attorney says ‘all options are on the table’

The sheriff also responded to unconfirmed reports that the prop guns had been used in off hours for target practice. 

“We are aware of those statements and we are investigating whether or not that is true,” Mendoza said. “And I would encourage anybody that has any information that any target practicing or any firearm was discharged away from the movie set or for practice or for whatever reason to contact the sheriff’s office.”

Mendoza said Baldwin, 63, is “obviously the person that fired the weapon” and is “an active part of the investigation.”

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies would not rule out charges being brought against Baldwin, the film’s star and a producer. “All options are on the table at this point. We cannot answer that question yet.”

“No one has been ruled out at this point,” Carmack-Altwies said Wednesday.

Gun safety protocols are rigid on film and TV sets. This ‘should never have happened.’

An affidavit from the sheriff’s office revealed Gutierrez told investigators that on the day of the incident, she checked the “dummies” and ensured there were not “hot” rounds in the firearm.

Gutierrez added that as the crew broke for lunch, the firearms were taken back and secured inside a safe on a set “prop truck.” During the lunch break, she stated the ammo was left on a cart and not secured. 

Gutierrez said no live ammo was “ever kept” on the set, according to the affidavit. 

A search warrant was issued Wednesday for the white prop truck. 

Assistant director admits he did not properly check prop gun

The affidavit said that Halls recalled seeing the firearm before continuing the rehearsal.

When asked about safety protocols, he told investigators: “I check the barrel for obstructions, most of the time there’s no live fire, she (Hannah) opens the hatch and spins the drum, and I say ‘cold gun’ on set,” indicating a weapon that doesn’t contain ammunition.

In this case, the affidavit said, Hall “could only remember seeing three rounds. He advised he should have checked all of them, but didn’t, and couldn’t recall if she spun the drum.” 

Halls “advised the incident was not a deliberate act,” according to the warrant.

‘Rust’ assistant director says he did not properly inspect gun given to Alec Baldwin: Affidavit

Director Joel Souza recalls graphic details of misfire

Souza has given the most complete explanation over what happened in the fatal shooting.

According to a Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office affidavit, Baldwin, sitting in a church pew, was rehearsing drawing his weapon “and pointing his revolver towards the camera lens” during the church-setting rehearsal.

In an interview with Detective Joel Cano, Souza said he was “concentrated on the monitors” standing beside Hutchins viewing the camera angle as they prepared for the first scene to be shot after a lunch break.

Souza said he heard what “sounded like a whip and then loud pop” and heard Hutchins “complaining about her stomach and grabbing her midsection.”

Hutchins “began to stumble backwards and was assisted to the ground,” Souza told police. Souza was bleeding from his own injury to the shoulder.

Souza told investigators that, prior to Baldwin being handed the gun, Halls had described it as a “cold gun.” The film’s director said there should “never be live rounds whatsoever near or around the film set.”

He said that guns on set were checked first by Gutierrez and again by Halls, who would hand the firearms to the actor using them. 

After the crew returned to the set after the lunch break, Souza said he was “not sure if the firearm was checked again.”

Conservative political voices take aim at Alec Baldwin after fatal ‘Rust’ incident

Who was killed by the prop gun?

Born in Ukraine, Hutchins previously served as director of cinematography for the 2020 action film “Archenemy,” starring Joe Manganiello, who paid tribute to the “absolutely incredible talent.” 

According to her website, she grew up on the Soviet base in the Arctic Circle and was “surrounded by reindeer and nuclear submarines.” She received a graduate degree in international journalism from Kyiv National University in Ukraine, worked on British documentary productions in Europe and graduated from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2015. She was named a “rising star” by American Cinematographer in 2019. Hutchins is survived by her husband, Matthew Hutchins, with whom she had a son.

Since her death, tributes from Hollywood have poured in. The International Cinematographers Guild, the union to which Hutchins belonged, started a GoFundMe to help raise funds for her family. 

The fundraiser’s initial goal was set for $10,000 by ICG Local 600 but nearly $240,000 has been raised. 

Halyna Hutchins killed after ‘horrifying’ prop gun misfire; Joe Manganiello, more pay tribute

‘Rust’ star Jensen Ackles pays emotional tribute to Halyna Hutchins: ‘She was an inspiration’

Reports of unsafe practices by David Halls, Hannah Gutierrez surface

In the wake of the “Rust” accident, past colleagues of Halls and Gutierrez have come forward with allegations about unsafe practices on past productions.

Maggie Goll, an IATSE Local 44 prop maker, said in a statement that she filed an internal complaint with the executive producers of Hulu’s 2019 anthology series “Into the Dark” over concerns about Halls’ behavior on the set. In an email to The Associated Press, Goll said Halls disregarded safety protocols for weapons and pyrotechnics and tried to continue filming after a crew member “slipped into a diabetic fugue state.”

During work on “Into the Dark,” she said, Halls didn’t hold safety meetings and consistently failed to announce the presence of a firearm to the crew on the set, as is protocol. The assistant prop master admonished Halls several times for dismissing the actors and actresses before they had returned weapons to the props table, she said.

“The only reason the crew was made aware of a weapon’s presence was because the assistant prop master demanded Dave acknowledge and announce the situation each day,” she wrote. “To my knowledge, nothing was done after my complaints.”

Before working on “Rust,” Gutierrez, who also goes by Hannah Reed, experienced her first job as head armorer on the set of the upcoming Nicolas Cage movie “The Old Way.” CNN reported the claims of two crew members from the film, who said Gutierrez had mishandled firearms on the set.

Stu Brumbaugh, the key grip for “The Old Way,” said he reported Gutierrez to the film’s assistant director seeking to get her fired for reckless behavior, which included shooting a firearm near Cage without warning.

“Make an announcement! You just blew my (expletive) eardrums out!” Cage screamed, according to Brumbaugh.

“There’s a universal way to handle weapons on set and immediately red flags went up when I worked with Hannah,” Brumbaugh told CNN. “This is why I asked for her dismissal.”

“This is why people get injured because of rookie mistakes,” he said. 

Gutierrez is the daughter of Thell Reed, a quick-draw exhibition shooter and gun coach for stars who worked on films such as “Tombstone” and “The Quick and the Dead,” according to his IMDB profile.

What is a prop gun and how can it kill someone? How the Alec Baldwin tragedy was possible

Podcast reveals ‘Rust’ armorer’s feelings about previous job: ‘I was really nervous’

‘Rust’ crew members had walked off set to protest working conditions

Half a dozen crew members reportedly walked off the set of “Rust” in protest of working conditions hours before Hutchins was killed.

A camera crew member anonymously told The Associated Press that those working on the film raised concerns about several problems, ranging from safety procedures to their housing accommodations. 

Prop gun death at Alec Baldwin film ‘Rust’ isn’t the first accident on a movie set

The Los Angeles Times and Deadline reported that, hours before the fatal incident, members of the “Rust” camera crew walked off the job in protest and, per the LA Times, were replaced with nonunion crew members soon after. The outlets also noted at least two previous misfires on a prop gun on set days before.

In a statement to the outlets, Rust Movie Productions LLC said the “safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company.” 

IATSE Local 44, a union of prop makers and other craft persons who work within the entertainment industry, sent a message to their members that was obtained by USA TODAY confirming that no Local 44 members were on the set at the time of the shooting. 

‘Rust’ crew walked off set to protest working conditions hours before cinematographer death, reports say

Will ‘Rust’ continue filming?

Filming for “Rust” was set to continue into early November, according to a news release from the New Mexico Film Office, but production has been halted amid the ongoing investigation.

“The entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today’s tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Halyna’s family and loved ones,” Rust Movie Productions LLC, said in a statement obtained by Deadline and the New York Times. “We have halted production on the film for an undetermined period of time and are fully cooperating with the Santa Fe Police Department’s investigation. We will be providing counseling services to everyone connected to the film as we work to process this awful event.”

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Contributing: Amy Haneline, USA TODAY, and The Associated Press

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