Two weeks ago, actor Alec Baldwin was handed a prop gun that he believed was filled with dummy rounds as he practiced a scene on the set of his upcoming Western film Rust. But the weapon was not filled with dummy rounds and somehow Baldwin discharged the gun, fatally shooting cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.
The entertainment industry was stunned, as colleagues mourned the loss of Hutchins, a 42-year-old mother who seemed poised for stardom behind the camera. Baldwin was seen bewildered and bent over in tears after talking with investigators, and production has been suspended indefinitely.
Over the past two weeks, the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office has opened an investigation into the accident and involved parties have released their statements, expressing their sorrow and disbelief at how this could’ve happened.
By now, past details have been dug up about those involved, such as the head armorer raising concerns about her alleged lax approach to gun safety on the set of her previous movie, and the first assistant director being fired from an earlier movie over accidental gun discharges. Crew members have detailed the events of that tragic day and experts have speculated on what could have gone wrong.
And the industry has demanded change, with actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and shows such as The Rookie pledging to stop using real firearms on set.
But two weeks is all it took before tiptoeing around the tragedy has come to an end, and now the blame game has begun.
Lawyering up this week was Hutchins’ husband Matthew Hutchins, who retained a law firm specializing in personal injury and wrongful litigation.
An attorney for first assistant director Dave Halls, who according to a search warrant affidavit handed Baldwin the weapon and informed him it was safe to use, claimed it wasn’t his responsibility to check the firearm.
Even Baldwin couldn’t resist chiming in, agreeing it was “bullshit” to suggest the production was chaotic and unsafe, as he shared a post from a woman in the wardrobe department, who called Hutchins’ camera crew members “jerks” and said it was Halls who “screwed up.”
Although no one has filed suit yet, it wouldn’t take a legal expert to suspect that one will come and when it does, it will be a legal showdown between several parties, including the handful of production companies involved, crew members, and possibly Baldwin—who is also a producer on Rust—himself.
But attorneys for Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the film’s 24-year-old head armorer, went on the attack on Wednesday, astonishingly pointing a finger at an unidentified “disgruntled” crew member. They declared that they believed Hutchins’ death was the result of sabotage, suggesting someone had slipped a live bullet into a box that was supposed to only have dummy rounds.
Speaking of tensions on set between producers and some crew members, several of whom walked off set hours before the fatal shooting in protest of safety concerns and working conditions, the attorneys said they believed someone had acted deliberately to put someone in harm’s way.
“I believe that somebody who would do that would want to sabotage the set, want to prove a point, want to say that they’re disgruntled, they’re unhappy,” Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyer Jason Bowles told the Today show. “I think you can’t rule anybody out at this point.”
The Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office declined to comment to The Daily Beast if the investigation was considering that there could have been foul play.
Crew members, meanwhile, believe it’s a low blow, and are incredulous that Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys would try to shift the blame to them after many had voiced concerns before the accident about a lack of safety measures and poor conditions on set, with several quitting directly because of them. (A spokesperson for the film’s production company said no official complaint about safety had been filed.)
Lane Luper, a camera operator, had been posting on Facebook a few days before the accident about frustrations with production. He was one of several people who left the set that morning, claiming “corner cutting” was making production unsafe.
To hear how the crew’s fears that something could go wrong over the working conditions and alleged lack of safety measures has now been spun to make it seem as though a crew member was at fault is “incredibly irresponsible” and “slanderous,” Luper told TODAY on Thursday of the lawyers’ suggestion.
Another production source, who asked The Daily Beast to withhold their name, also waved off the bold allegation that a crew member deliberately attempted to sabotage the film, instead pointing to how gun safety measures were clearly lax.
“I think that whether or not this was an act of sabotage has no bearing on the fact that had the protocols been followed Halyna would be alive today, period,” they said. “Even if [Gutierrez-Reed] wants to say someone else put the bullet in the gun, the safety protocols still would’ve stopped that gun from getting into Alec’s hand.”
“It was her mismanagement of the set and inability to stand up to the pressures of the film set and demand the protocols that she is there to enforce are followed no matter what the circumstances, because if they are not someone could die, and that’s exactly what happened.”
And even if there was a live round purposefully mixed into dummy rounds, it would have been Gutierrez-Reed’s responsibility to check the rounds before loading them into the firearm. Then, she is supposed to show the weapon and the rounds to the first assistant director.
Veteran armorer Mike Tristano, who has worked on more than 100 films including The Purge, previously broke down to The Daily Beast the proper protocols that are in place to ensure an accident doesn’t happen on set, explaining how to tell the difference between rounds.
“A live round is very different-looking from a blank,” he said. “A blank has no bullet head at all, it’s a crimped casing. It’s just a casing that’s been crimped to contain gunpowder. When it’s fired, the casing expands, letting out the powder which creates the flash at the end of the gun barrel and in the case of a Western period, gun smoke.”
“Dummy rounds look like real bullets with several exceptions. The back of the dummy has a primer on it that’s been punched. In other words, that signifies there is no live primer in the gun. Also, if you shake a dummy, which we do all the time, you’ll [hear] BBs in it, which designates that there’s no powder in the dummy.”
According to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office search warrant affidavit, Baldwin had been handed the .45 Long Colt revolver by Dave Halls, a seasoned first assistant director. Halls had picked up the gun from a prop table, and handed it to Baldwin, declaring the gun was “cold,” indicating that it did not contain live rounds.
Halls told investigators that Gutierrez-Reed had shown the gun to him, but he couldn’t remember if she had spun the drum so that he could check every round to ensure they were all dummy rounds, admitting he should have checked every round.
Tristano said it’s standard practice to only load the firearms right before a scene, even showing everyone the rounds he’s using. “I show everybody the dummies, so they can see that they are dummies, the primers are punched, and I’ll shake each individual round,” he explained.
“Then I load the dummies into the gun, and I’ll close the loading gate. I will take the gun and, pointing at the ground, I will click off each chamber and that cylinder so that the hammer hits the back of each dummy round, further illustrating that it’s safe. This is standard. We do it because we over-safety everything—it’s a foolproof system. So obviously, none of that was done.”
As attorneys for involved parties continue with their respective press tours, each rattling off reasons why their client is not to blame and someone else is, Hutchins as a person, a talented cinematographer, a loving wife, a mother to a 9-year-old son, is becoming increasingly absent from these conversations. No amount of finger-pointing can change what happened that day. No one can win.