Actor Alec Baldwin pulled the trigger on a prop pistol while shooting a scene for the film “Rust” killing cinematographer Halnya Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza, reports the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department.
It’s not clear if the death is a result of mishandling firearms, issuing the wrong prop or a catastrophic malfunction of the prop used for the scene. Investigation is ongoing and so far no one is facing charges, however, rumors suggest the actor was issued a fully functional and loaded firearm for the scene.
Emergency responders airlifted Hutchins from the shooting location to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead by hospital staff. Souza took an ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center and has been treated and released.
“The sheriff’s office confirms that two individuals were shot on the set of Rust,” said the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department in an early statement. “Halyna Hutchins, 42, director of photography and Joel Souza, 48, director, were shot when a prop firearm was discharged by Alec Baldwin, 68, producer and actor.”
“This investigation remains open and active,” they said. “No charges have been filed in regard to this incident. Witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives.”
According to IATSE Local 44 the cause of the accident was the use of a real revolver loaded with a live cartridge. The association was not involved with the film, instead, local New Mexican crew were on staff. They charge that Baldwin fired the real gun at Hutchins with the bullet passing through her and injuring Souza.
The International Cinematographers Guild issued a statement following the incident. “The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event. This is a terrible loss, and we mourn the passing of a member of our Guild’s family.”
Sources close to the production report that Baldwin did not know he was given a working, loaded firearm. “In all my years, I’ve never been handed a hot gun,” he is said to have said, with “hot gun” meaning functional firearm and not a prop, loaded with either blanks or other propellant cartridges.
“Rust” as a production wasn’t a big budget deal, a Western crime action drama. Reports indicate that there was only one prop manager, one medic and two stuntmen. They also say all production is halted and the movie won’t be finished, because of inevitable legal problems following the death of a crewmember, due to negligence or otherwise.
“Rust” was a Western movie set in Kansas in the 1880s. Baldwin played a Hartland Rust, a grandfather and outlaw with a 13-year-old grandson accused of an accidental killing.
Even if the rumor that Baldwin was issued a working firearm are wrong, it’s still possible for a blank-firing prop to kill and injure people. A blank at close range can itself be fatal, and if the barrel or chamber is obstructed and loaded with a blank, the obstruction can be fired like any bullet.