Hollywood was stunned following the accidental shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Rust in 2021. The incident, which also resulted in director Joel Souza being injured, was investigated by the Santa Fe County Sheriff. Both Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed were charged in relation to the shooting. Baldwin’s charges were ultimately dropped, while Gutierrez Reed has pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence.
An accidental on-set shooting
On October 21, 2021, police responded to a 911 call of a reported shooting at Bonanza Creek Ranch, where Rust was filming. Once there, they found Hutchins had been shot, while Souza was suffering unspecified injuries. Hutchins was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced deceased. Souza was transported via ambulance to CHRISTUS St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and later released.
According to a representative for Baldwin, Hutchins was shot by a prop gun that was wielded by the actor. While prop guns are designed to fire blanks made from paper or plastic, a shot from close range can be lethal. At the time, production company Rust Movie Productions LLC released a statement, saying:
“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. 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.”
The prop gun contained a live round
It was initially unclear if Baldwin was acting at the time of the shooting or how many rounds were fired, and little was known about the prop weapon. In an email sent to its membership and released by Indiewire, film union IATSE Local 44 said the gun contained a “live round.” It also said the production’s propmaster was not a union member.
The contents of the email were corroborated by Variety.
Baldwin spoke publicly about the incident on Twitter, expressing his sadness over the accident and sharing that he’s cooperating with the ongoing investigation. “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. 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 for him and his family.
“My heart is broken for her husband, her son, and all who knew and loved Halyna,” he concluded.
A settlement and charges
In October of 2022, a year after the incident, Baldwin and the film’s production company reached a settlement with the family of Hutchins for an undisclosed amount. Her husband stated that all parties involved agreed that the shooting was not intentional.
“All of us believe Halyna’s death was a terrible accident,” he indicated in a statement at the time. “I have no interest in engaging in recriminations or attribution of blame.”
Along with a January 2023 announcement that Baldwin would be charged with involuntary manslaughter, it was revealed Gutierrez Reed would face the same charges. Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in a statement, “I have determined that there is sufficient evidence. On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice.”
On January 31, 2023, Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed were officially charged with involuntary manslaughter, with a penalty of up to five years in prison. As prosecutors filed the charges, they claimed that Baldwin ignored the most basic rule of gun safety when he pointed the weapon at Hutchens.
Did Alec Baldwin miss training sessions?
It’s also been alleged Baldwin missed vital training sessions prior to handling the prop. “Baldwin was provided only minimal training on firearms,” reads the statement of probable cause, which also indicated he received “limited training” in firearms techniques that included how to check whether a weapon is loaded or not.
Armorer Guiterrez-Reed told investigators she thought Baldwin needed more training and that further safety sessions would be “very important” for filming since his character uses guns throughout the story. According to court documents, she even set up a private training session with herself and Baldwin.
However, it ended up only being 30 minutes long due to the fact “Baldwin was distracted and talking on his cell phone to his family during the training,” she told prosecutors. The probable cause statement reads, “Had Baldwin performed the required safety checks with the armorer this tragedy would not have occurred.”
Alec Baldwin asked for the conservative prosecutor to be dropped
On February 7, 2023, Baldwin’s defense attorneys sought to disqualify the special prosecutor in the case. In the filed motion, they claim Andrea Reeb’s status as a state lawmaker legally prohibited her from wielding power in a judicial capacity. It also said that Reeb, a Republican, is “exercising either the executive power or the judicial power, and her continued service as a special prosecutor is unconstitutional.
Baldwin’s attorneys refrained from claiming politics were involved in the decision to file criminal charges, but said “[Reeb] must be disqualified” in light of her position. However, Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies dismissed the motion as “a legal diversion” meant to “distract from the fact that Halyna Hutchins died because of gross negligence and a reckless disregard for safety on the Rust film set.”
One prominent defense attorney, Michel Huff, believed Baldwin’s motion could be granted. “Allowing a sitting legislator to also act as a prosecutor, essentially enforcing the very laws which she passed, would be an unconstitutional violation of this separation of powers,” he said in an interview with Yahoo. “I would expect the Court to side with Baldwin on this issue.”
Weeks later, on March 14, Reeb announced she’d decided to step down after “much reflection,” saying, “My priority in this case — and in every case I’ve prosecuted in my 25-year career — has been justice for the victim. However, it has become clear that the best way I can ensure justice is served in this case is to step down so that the prosecution can focus on the evidence and the facts.”
Announcement that production would resume in spring
In mid-February 2023, Rust Productions announced filming would restart in the spring and that some of the original crew would return. Rust‘s costume designer, makeup and hair department heads, stunt coordinator, and Souza were among the individuals to rejoin. Two safety officers were also added to the crew, and the use of weapons and ammunition was prohibited.
“My every effort on this film will be devoted to honoring Halyna’s legacy and making her proud,” said Souza.
Two ‘not guilty’ pleas
On February 23, 2023, Baldwin pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of Halyna Hutchins. He waived his first appearance in court, which was scheduled to be held virtually the next day.
Armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed also pleaded not guilty. Her legal team indicated she’d received threats that had required her to file a restraining order against a stalker. They also argued she be allowed to keep a weapon in her home under the conditions of her release. The judge ultimately ruled she could keep a gun at home for self-defense.
Was the prop weapon destroyed?
During a virtual hearing on March 9, 2023, one of Baldwin’s attorneys told a judge that the New Mexico government had destroyed the prop gun. “I think I should tell the court that the firearm in this case, that’s a great subject of it, was destroyed by the state,” said Alex Spiro. “So that’s obviously an issue.” He also indicated he’d like to see the weapon – “or what’s left of it.”
After the proceedings, Heather Brewer, a spokesperson for the office of the First Judicial District Attorney, denied the claim. “The defense’s unexpected statement in the status hearing today that the gun had been destroyed by the state may be a reference to a statement in the FBI’s July 2022 firearms testing report that said damage was done to internal components of the gun during the FBI’s functionality testing. However, the gun still exists and can be used as evidence,” Brewer expressed in a statement.
Maximum possible fine for firearms safety failures as filming resumes
The highest possible fine was imposed by New Mexico’s workplace safety regulators against Rust Movie Productions in April 2023. The company was ordered to pay $136,793. “What we had, based on our investigators’ findings, was a set of obvious hazards to employees regarding the use of firearms and management’s failure to act upon those obvious hazards,” said Bob Genoway, bureau chief for occupational safety.
The report, which took 1,500 staff hours to investigate, indicated that assistant director David Halls gave Alec Baldwin a large-caliber revolver without consulting on-set weapons specialists before or after loading it. It also states Halls served as safety coordinator and was present when two rifles accidentally discharged on set.
Despite being aware of the misfires, Halls and other managers didn’t take investigative, corrective or disciplinary action. “The Safety Coordinator was present on set and took no direct action to address safety concerns,” the report read. “Management had multiple opportunities to rectify the situation but failed to do so.”
Filming was set to resume the same week at Yellowstone Film Ranch in Montana, the production company confirmed. “It will bar any use of working weapons and any form of ammunition,” Rust Movie Productions attorney Melina Spadone told the BBC. “Live ammunition is – and always was – prohibited on set.”
Charges dropped against Alec Baldwin
On April 20, 2023, Baldwin’s lawyers said prosecutors were dropping the involuntary manslaughter charges against the actor for the on-set death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, two months after they were lessened. Attorneys Alex Spiro and Luke Nikas announced, “We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident.”
Jason Bowles, the attorney for Gutierrez-Reed, said that the involuntary manslaughter charges against his client remained.
Movie medic awarded $1.15 million
A settlement of $1.15 million was approved by a judge in New Mexico in a case involving a medic who worked on the Rust film set and accused several defendants of negligence in relation to the shooting incident that occurred in 2021.
According to court records, the partial settlement between Cherlyn Schaefer and prop master Sarah Zachry was granted during a hearing held on May 8, 2023. Schaefer expressed that not a day goes by when she doesn’t think about what happened, as reported by the Santa Fe New Mexican. In her civil complaint, Schaefer recounted her desperate efforts to save Hutchins. She stated the subsequent shock, trauma and emotional distress have rendered her unable to continue working in her field.
One of Schaefer’s lawyers, Justin Rodriguez, stated the approved settlement “is only a small portion of what we expect to receive in the future.” The remaining defendants in the case include Rust Movie Productions, Gutierrez-Reed and Halls. Baldwin is not listed.
Schaefer’s complaint alleges that Zachry and Gutierrez-Reed failed to ensure there were no live rounds in Baldwin’s weapon. Gutierrez-Reed still faces an involuntary manslaughter charge, but her team is confident she’ll ultimately be cleared of any wrongdoing.
Claims Hannah Gutierrez-Reed might have been ‘hungover’
Prosecutors have alleged Gutierrez-Reed consumed alcohol in the evenings during filming and say she might have been hungover when she mistakenly loaded a live bullet into the revolver used by Baldwin. These claims were made in response to a request by the gun handler’s attorneys to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charges against her.
The defense team criticized the prosecutors for what they called “character assassination” and mishandling of the case. The prosecutors also argue Gutierrez-Reed has a history of reckless behavior at work and claim it’s likely she was hungover when she loaded the live bullet. Witnesses in the case are expected to testify she was heavily drinking during filming.
In a separate development, prosecutors announced they’ll decide within the next 60 days whether to re-charge Baldwin in relation to the shooting death.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed charged with tampering with evidence
On June 22, 2023, prosecutors in the case announced that Gutierrez-Reed was facing a new charge of tampering with evidence in addition to the involuntary manslaughter charge. According to the amended complaint, the armorer handed narcotics to another person on set, “with the intention to prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of herself.”
Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney responded to the news by revealing that he’d been accidentally copied on an email by lead investigator Robert Shilling, in which he was asked to no longer work on the ongoing case. He allegedly received a second correspondence 38 minutes later, in which he was asked to delete the email.
The armorer’s attorney also spoke out against the investigation, saying, “The conduct of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office during and after their initial investigation is reprehensible and unprofessional to a degree I still have no words for.”
On August 9, Gutierrez-Reed pleaded not guilty to the charges. Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer scheduled the trial for December 6-15, with jury selection taking place on December 5.
Report indicates Baldwin pulled the trigger
Alec Baldwin could be facing charges again in connection with the Rust shooting incident. A second examination of the firearm involved suggests that he might have pulled the trigger. Baldwin has repeatedly said that he did not discharge the pistol, but an August 2 firearm analysis report confirms that the Colt .45 revolver would not fire unless the trigger was pulled.
“This fatal incident was the consequence of the hammer being manually retracted to its fully rearward and cocked position followed, at some point, by the pull or rearward depression of the trigger,” the report stated. “Although Alec Baldwin repeatedly denies pulling the trigger, given the tests, findings and observations reported here, the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver.”
In a June filing, prosecutors had indicated that if the weapon didn’t malfunction, charges against Baldwin would proceed.
The actor’s representatives declined to comment.
Halyna Hutchins’ legacy
In response to her death, Hutchins’ friends and colleagues set up a memorial scholarship in her name, with the purpose being to supporting other female cinematographers through education. Additionally, a classmate of hers, filmmaker Bandar Albuliwi, created a petition for “Halyna’s Law,” which seeks to ban the use of real guns on film and television sets. Albuliwi is currently working with California state officials to propose legislation that would make it a felony to use real ammunition on sets.
In March 2022, Hutchins was honored during the 94th Academy Awards’ “In Memoriam” segment. Her image was the fifth to be projected during the presentation, following Sidney Poitier, Olympia Dukakis, William Hurt and Stephen Sondheim.
In late 2022, Hutchins’ good friend, Rachel Mason, announced an official documentary about her life. A release date has not yet been provided.
Rust tragedy eerily similar to incident that took Brandon Lee’s life
The Rust incident was reminiscent of a similar accident in 1993, involving Bruce Lee‘s son, Brandon. During production of The Crow, Lee and actor Michael Massee were filming a death scene when Massee shot his co-star with a prop .44-caliber pistol. The weapon had been improperly loaded, with the remnants of a single dummy bullet still in the chamber.
Lee was shot in the stomach, and the bullet lodged near his spine. He was rushed to New Hanover Regional Medical Center in Wilmington, North Carolina, where attempts to save his life were unsuccessful. He was pronounced deceased on March 31, 1993, at the age of 28. The cause of death was ruled to be an accident due to negligence.
The incident prompted widespread discussion over safety measures and protocols on movie sets. When the Rust shooting happened, Lee’s sister, Shannon, tweeted about the incident via the official Brandon Lee memorial account:
“Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust’. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”