There are still many unanswered questions about Thursday’s tragic accident on the New Mexico set of the indie Western “Rust.”
Actor-producer Alec Baldwin accidentally discharged a prop gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, and injured director Joel Souza — who was released from the hospital by Friday morning.
And Baldwin, who is cooperating with local authorities investigating the incident, broke his silence on Friday. “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 said in a statement. “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.”
As Santa Fe authorities continue their investigation, here’s some of what we know about the tragedy — and what is still unknown.
- Was there really a live round in the prop gun — and why?
There seems to be some confusion here. IATSE Local 44 Secretary-Treasurer Anthony Pawluc described the incident as: “a live single round was accidentally fired.” But the Santa Fe sheriff’s department has said its investigators don’t know that is the case, and that below-the-line union local does not actually represent anyone on the “Rust” set.
“We haven’t even begun the forensics on that issue,” Sante Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Rios told Deadline. “That hasn’t been determined by us as of yet. We expect to have more information next week as our investigation continues.”
As to the why (if a live round was used), that one is harder to answer — there would be a reason to have dummy bullet cartridges with projectiles intact (but with the gunpowder and primer absent). These are used for closeup shots to make it appear as if there are live rounds in the cylinder.
Another possible scenario recalls the accident that killed actor Brandon Lee in 1993 on the set of “The Crow,” another tragedy involving a prop gun thought to have blanks. According to The New York Times, projectile from a hastily-made dummy cartridge can become lodged, and then a blank is loaded, essentially turning that blank that into a “live” round.
2. What actually happened on set? Did Alec Baldwin aim or did the gun go off accidentally?
All we know so far, according to law enforcement statements, is that Hutchins was shot around 1:50 p.m. local time Thursday by a prop gun that was discharged by Baldwin. She died of her injuries after being airlifted to University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque. The film’s director, Souza, was also injured and hospitalized in the incident, though he left the hospital on Friday.
The investigation into the deadly incident is ongoing, the sheriff’s department said. Baldwin was questioned Thursday and no charges have been filed as of now. A representative for “Rust” production did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on what happened on set.
But there are signs that the production may have been cutting corners in its treatment of crew members. Hours before the fatal accident, a half dozen camera crew workers walked off to protest safety and other working conditions on the production, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
In a statement on Friday, the production team responded: “Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation.”
It will likely be days or weeks until we get the full picture of what happened.
3. Was there a prop master and firearms safety expert on set — and where were they?
As firearms instructor Dave Brown wrote for American Cinematographer magazine in 2019, prop guns (which are still very real firearms) require experts on set to make sure they’re properly handled at all times.
While we’d certainly hope there was a dedicated armorer and firearms safety expert on set, this is something that will likely turn up in the police’s investigation. The IMDb listing for the production includes one stunt coordinator, Allan Graf — whose rep did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
According to Pawluc’s email, “the Props, Set Decoration, Special Effects and Construction Departments were staffed by New Mexico crew members.”
4. Could Alec Baldwin — or anyone else — face criminal charges?
The question of criminal responsibility is something local law enforcement and prosecutors will determine. On Friday, New Mexico’s First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said the investigation was still in its preliminary stages and it was too soon to say if criminal charges might be filed.
But it must be noted that in the vast majority of cases, the person who pulled the trigger is not found to be at fault. They were handed a prop and assured it would function normally — when it didn’t.
In the Brandon Lee case, no criminal charges were filed by Wilmington, N.C., prosecutor Jerry Spivey — although negligence was found to be a factor in the actor’s death. Lee’s mother, Linda Lee Cadwell, later filed a civil negligence suit against Miramax that was eventually settled out of court, according to the Los Angeles Times.
5. Will the film go back into production?
That’s a question that the production can’t and probably answer at this point. The film was on the 12th day of what was expected to be a 21-day shoot, according to the L.A. Times. All we know that for now, the film has halted production for “an undetermined period of time” while everyone cooperates with the police investigation.
Any return to production is likely far off.