The investigation into the October shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the Santa Fe, New Mexico, set of “Rust” has always hinged on one critical question.
How did a live bullet find its way into Alec Baldwin’s replica Colt .45 that tragic day in Santa Fe, New Mexico?
“Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed believes it was the result of negligence on the part of Seth Kenney, a New Mexico-based weapons and ammunition supplier who was responsible for providing inert ammunition to the Baldwin-produced film. Instead, a live round fired from Baldwin’s gun killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday against Kenney and his company PDQ Arm and Prop, Reed contends that Kenney supplied the “Rust” set with live bullets mixed in among dummy and blank rounds. It adds that Kenney actively sought to place the blame for the shooting on Reed’s actions during the low-budget film shoot.
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“Defendants (Kenney and PDQ Prop) as suppliers of prop ammunition to the ‘Rust’ set, sold, distributed, and advertised its props as dummy ammunition and not live rounds,” the complaint reads. “Hannah relied upon and trusted that Defendants would only supply dummy prop ammunition, or blanks, and no live rounds were ever to be on set.”
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial on four counts, including violation of New Mexico’s Unfair Trade Practices Act, creating a “dangerous condition” on the set, and providing materials with “false and deceptive product labels.”
USA TODAY has reached out to Kenney’s attorney for comment.
Months before the “Rust” shoot, Kenney helped actors on a movie shoot in Texas practice live-round shooting to get a feel for how real guns kick back, the complaint says.
Veteran movie set armorer Thell Reed, Hannah Gutierrez Reed’s father, who joined Kenney on that assignment, says there were hundreds of live rounds used that day in Texas, some with casings marked “Starline Brass,” the same same stamp found on the live round that killed Hutchins.
His daughter’s 24-page civil complaint paints the “Rust” set as both lax and messy. Crews were quitting, guns with dummy rounds were going off accidentally and key figures were not following protocols.
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In the days leading up to the Oct. 21 shooting, property master Sarah Zachry had a gun discharge toward her foot. Minutes later, a student double for Baldwin has his weapon go off. Neither had live ammo.
Reed confronted Zachry about the accidental discharges, but the complaint says she soon received a terse text from Kenney, who had recommended both Reed and Zachry for their “Rust” jobs, telling her to lay off Zachry. “Don’t forget she’s your boss,” Kenney wrote Reed. “Don’t push it.”
Kenney subsequently called a police officer friend – Officer Troy Teske, of Bullhead City, Arizona, who he had met through Thell Reed – to complain that he never wanted to work with the younger Reed again.
On the day of the shooting, more chaos reigned. Reed’s complaint notes that a full box of “dummy” rounds suddenly appeared. Reed’s questions to Zachry about where the box came from went unanswered.
Reed set about inspecting and loading Baldwin’s Colt .45. The next minutes have been described by various players in the “Rust” tragedy over the past months, and investigators are trying to piece together exactly what happened.
Reed’s version of events has her shaking all six bullets she made sure were loaded into his Colt .45, their individual rattles indicating that they were dummy rounds.
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When it came time for Baldwin to return to the church-scene set, Reed handed the Colt to assistant director Dave Halls, who told her that the gun wouldn’t be used during rehearsals.
Reed contends the gun stayed with Halls. She says she asked Halls to call her back if and when the gun was to be handed to Baldwin, so she could spin the chamber and assure the actor the gun was safe.
She stepped outside, given COVID-19 protocols limiting the number of personnel allowed inside the small church. Then, a shot rang out. Baldwin had taken the weapon from Halls – who had called out “cold gun” – and was practicing cross-drawing when the gun discharged as it was pointed toward his cinematographer.
“Had Hannah been called back in, she would have re-inspected the weapon, and every round again, and instructed Baldwin on safe gun practice with the cross draw,” the complaint reads. “Hannah would never have let Baldwin point the weapon at Halyna, as part of standard safe gun practices. Apparently, no one inside the Church stopped Baldwin from doing so, including AD Halls.”
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Reed’s lawyers say Kenney reached out to his friend, Officer Teske.
“During that call from Seth to Troy at 4:03 p.m. on October 21, just hours after the shooting and before Halyna had been pronounced deceased, Seth stated words to the effect to Troy that Hannah had messed up,” the complaint reads. “How and why, Seth came to this almost immediate conclusion that Hannah had ‘messed up’ and offered it up unsolicited to Troy is neither understood or yet to be explained or clarified.”
The complaint goes on to paint Kenney as mounting a concerted effort to shift the focus away from himself, including initiating a text message exchange with Reed in which he suggested that AD Halls had essentially bullied Hannah and not allowed her to do her job safely. Seth stated that if she would shift blame to Halls, he would ‘have her back.’ “
For his part, Baldwin said in his TV interview with George Stephanopoulos in December that he never pulled the Colt’s trigger, and that the gun went off after he pulled the hammer back at the request of his cinematographer.
Baldwin has not elaborated on why he was wielding a gun during rehearsal.