On Thursday, Oct. 21, Day 12 of a 21-day shoot for a modest-budget Western called “Rust,” the call sheet laid out the hours ahead for catering, crew, producers, actors, horse wranglers and those overseeing weapons for a dramatic showdown.
Breakfast would be served at 6 a.m. in the pre-dawn chill at the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The early start would give the crew plenty of time to set up for nine scenes that included Scene 121.
In it – INT. CHURCH – a gunfight would erupt between an injured Harlan Rust, played by Alec Baldwin, and three other characters. “Gunfight starts in the church. Rust backs out of the church.”
Required on set not only were the actors and a few stunt doubles, but also a replica Colt .45 pistol belonging to Baldwin’s character. Also, according to the call sheet, the special effects crew was to be ready with “squib, gun fight, gun fire, dust hits, shredding a pew.”
That scene never got filmed. Instead, during a rehearsal, Baldwin leveled the Colt, which was supposed to have fake ammunition per protocol, in the direction of the camera and the weapon went off. A live round killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza.
How a real bullet found its way into the chamber of that Italian-made F.lli Pietta pistol is at the heart of an ongoing investigation as well as brewing lawsuits. At present, there is more finger-pointing than facts.
Attorneys for the set’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, contend there was deliberate “sabotage,” while a lawyer representing assistant director David Halls suggested, against convention, it was never her client’s job to check the weapon. Meanwhile, the lighting director on “Rust” who was close with Hutchins has filed a legal complaint that describes a sloppy approach to safety that had fatal consequences.
In piecing together that tragic day through search warrants, criminal complaints and interviews with lawyers, the picture of what happened that sunny day remains frustratingly cloudy.
'A day that was in flux' for 'Rust' crew
At around 6:30 a.m., Sarah Zachary arrived on set. She was the prop master on “Rust,” and was responsible for unloading weapons that might be needed from a safe inside a truck, according to lawyer Jason Bowles, who is representing armorer Gutierrez Reed. Zachary or anyone representing her could not be reached for comment.
“Hannah got there shortly thereafter,” Bowles tells USA TODAY. “They had a day that was in flux. A camera crew had walked off, and another one was coming on.”
Left with only one camera, “Rust” regulars were immediately faced with delays that would eventually push the Scene 121 shoot to just after lunch, according to statements from director Souza and cameraman Reid Russell released in a Santa Fe Sheriff Department’s search warrant document.
What remains unclear is where the weapons needed for the day – which according to the call sheet obtained by USA TODAY included Rust’s Colt, a Remington rifle and two other weapons – were kept for most of the morning. But at around 11 a.m., Gutierrez Reed and Zachary “prepped firearms for the afternoon’s scene,” says Bowles.
Preparing the guns involved loading them with fake ammunition stored in the prop truck – no live ammunition was permitted on set, as is protocol. These are “dummy rounds” that visually look like the real thing but do not fire any sort of projectile.
Gutierrez Reed told investigators, who arrived on set inside the church shortly after the deadly shooting, that she “checked the ‘dummies’ and made sure they were not ‘hot’ rounds.”
This was around 11 a.m. Noting that the crew setting up the church scene was breaking for lunch before the shoot, Gutierrez Reed placed the firearms, now loaded with what she assumed to be dummies, back in the safe, whose combination was known to only a few crew members, according to the search warrant.
Some ammunition was left on a cart unsecured during lunch, while the rest was locked in the truck, Gutierrez Reed told police. At this point, sometime after noon, much of the cast and crew broke for lunch; the guns were locked in the safe.
Gutierrez Reed is 24, the daughter of an experienced set armorer. Seth Kenney, an Arizona-based prop supplier, was her “mentor armorer and recommended her for the job, and he also supplied ammo and the guns to the set,” says attorney Bowles.
Kenney could not be reached for comment, and it is unclear at what points he was on the set.
While Gutierrez Reed grew up in the armorer world, some on the “Rust” set question her efficacy.
Serge Svetnoy, who as a gaffer oversaw lighting on the film, spotted “a gun in the dirt for so long that he had to bring it to someone’s attention,” his lawyer, Gary Dornick, told USA TODAY. Dornick recently filed a complaint for general negligence on behalf of Svetnoy against the “Rust” production company and countless others involved, including Baldwin, Gutierrez Reed, Zachary and Halls.
“My client is a lighting specialist and didn’t pay close attention to the armorers throughout the production,” Dornick told USA TODAY. “But he couldn’t not notice what was happening. In addition to guns being left around, there were other situations that showed a level of incompetence.”
These included instances days before when guns did not fire as planned, and others when they did so prematurely, he says. Similar stories were reported by anonymous crew members to media outlets.
Who checked the deadly Colt?
At some point after 1 p.m., the crew came back from eating lunch just a short drive away from the church set. What happened next depends on who you speak with.
According to the search warrant, Gutierrez Reed says prop master Zachary “pulled the firearms out of the safe and handed them to her.” With regard to the Colt involved in the deadly shooting, it was then handed to assistant director Halls.
Veteran Hollywood armorers say it is indeed standard procedure for a weapon to pass from an armorer to an assistant director and on to an actor, with the weapon being checked at every handoff.
Bowles says his client “spun the cylinder for Halls” and gave him the weapon. Halls told investigators that, typically, procedure on set would lead him to “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.”
In this instance, Halls told police that when Gutierrez Reed gave him the Colt during rehearsal he only saw three rounds and “advised he should have checked them all, but didn’t, and couldn’t recall if she spun the drum.”
This conflicts with Gutierrez Reed's assertion that she had loaded six dummies into the Colt previously, and that she had spun the cylinder for Halls.
Halls’ attorney, Lisa Torraco, told Fox News that checking a firearm is “not the assistant director’s job. If he chooses to check the firearm because he wants to make sure that everyone’s safe, he can do that, but that’s not his responsibility.”
Torraco also disputed that Halls was the one who handed Baldwin the weapon, contrasting what Halls himself told New Mexico authorities in his statement. Calls and emails to Lisa Torraco Law were not returned.
Director Souza told investigators that firearms were routinely checked by Gutierrez Reed as well as Halls.
When the cast and crew returned from lunch to the church set, they continued to rehearse while the crew set up the production’s lone camera after the other crew walked off. No video or audio was running.
Souza says he is not sure if the Colt was checked again before it was given to Baldwin. Cameraman Russell also told detectives that he had stepped out for five minutes, and when he returned the Colt was with Baldwin and he didn’t know if it had been checked.
At this point, Gutierrez Reed momentarily stepped outside of the church, according to her lawyer. What happened next went quickly.
Rehearsal, then a 'terrifying whoosh'
When Souza walked into the church, Baldwin was practicing a cross draw, pulling the weapon out and pointing it. Russell told police that Baldwin had overall been “very careful” with weapons on the set, at one point making sure a child wasn’t near him during a scene involving guns.
Gaffer Svetnoy was helping with lighting, standing no more than 6 or 7 feet from Baldwin, who was on his right. To his left, Hutchins and Souza were near the camera.
The idea was to make sure the camera would capture Baldwin’s arm movement as he drew the weapon. Baldwin went through his motion. There would have been no need to pull the trigger.
The Colt fired. Svetnoy felt a “terrifying whoosh” and felt debris scratch the lenses of his glasses, according to the complaint. Suddenly, he could barely hear.
Souza screamed, “What the (expletive) was that?” Baldwin repeatedly yelled, “What happened?” the complaint states.
Hutchins grabbed her stomach, then said she could not feel her legs, according to the search warrant.
Svetnoy ran over to his friend, a woman with whom he had worked with on nine films and also shared an Eastern European background, leading him to call her by her Ukrainian nickname, Galla. “He cradled her head and spoke to her, trying to keep her calm,” but noticed his hand was wet with blood.
Hearing the explosion, Gutierrez Reed rushed back into the church.
She was handed the Colt after the incident, according to the search warrant. A 911 call was placed to the police.
"We have two injuries from a movie gunshot," said the flustered caller, who identified herself as a script supervisor.
The production’s medic rushed to the scene, according to the complaint filed by Svetnoy. An oxygen mask was prepared for Hutchins, which Svetnoy was tasked with keeping in place. But his friend’s face was turning gray. Her lips were black, he says.
Gutierrez Reed took the spent casings out of the Colt. She handed it over to arriving deputies, who secured all of the production’s weapons and some 500 rounds of ammunition. Then they started to interview the crew. Police have yet to release details of their interviews with Baldwin, who has not yet commented publicly on the specifics of the incident.
As police cars pulled up to the old church, a filmed fable featuring guns in the West was over. A modern murder investigation had begun. What remains are only questions: What kind of bullet killed Hutchins? How did it get into the Colt .45? Why did the gun go off? And who, ultimately, is responsible?
Juan Rios, spokesman for the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, offers only a no comment: "This is an ongoing investigation."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Rust' tragedy: All eyes are on the gun that killed Halyna Hutchins