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‘Lead projectile’ recovered from director’s shoulder as evidence in fatal shooting on Alec Baldwin film set, authorities say

A Santa Fe County Sheriff's deputy speaks Monday with a security guard at the entrance to the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., where production on “Rust” took place. (Jae C. Hong/AP Photo)

A “lead projectile” was recovered from director Joel Souza’s shoulder as evidence in the fatal shooting last week on the set of the western “Rust,” according to authorities.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza held a news conference with District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies Wednesday in Santa Fe, N.M., nearly a week after Alec Baldwin discharged a firearm while rehearsing a scene on the nearby set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring Souza. An affidavit filed by a sheriff’s office detective stated that assistant director Dave Halls handed Baldwin the weapon after mistakenly describing it as a “cold gun,” a term meaning it did not contain a live round.

Mendoza said at the conference that his office collected roughly 600 pieces of evidence from the set, including what he believes to be the firearm Baldwin was holding, a .45 Long Colt revolver manufactured by F.lli Pietta, as well as a spent shell casing. They also gathered about 500 rounds of ammunition — which Mendoza described as a “mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what we are suspecting are live rounds” — and two additional firearms: a single-action revolver that appeared to have been modified, as well as a plastic, nonfunctioning weapon.

The items have been submitted to the FBI crime lab in Quantico, Va., according to Mendoza, who referred to the projectile as a “suspected live round.” He said the round extracted from Souza’s shoulder appeared to be the same one that killed Hutchins, but that the medical investigator would need to confirm as much.

Carmack-Altwies said criminal charges have not been ruled out in the case, but that it is too early in the investigation to determine whether they will be filed at any point. Mendoza stressed that his office still needs to conduct numerous interviews; detectives spoke to the 16 people in the vicinity of the shooting, he said, but there were approximately 90 people on the set that day.

The affidavit provided a detailed chronology of what unfolded last Thursday on the set of “Rust.” The detective interviewed Souza and camera operator Reid Russell, the latter of whom said about six members of the camera crew had walked out on the low-budget project in protest of labor issues related to payment and housing. Production started late that day because they decided to hire another crew to step in for those who had left, according to Souza, who added that they were also working with a single camera on set.

Souza and Hutchins stood next to the camera that afternoon to assess an angle for a scene set inside a church building on Bonanza Creek Ranch. The director said Baldwin was sitting on a wooden pew to rehearse for a scene requiring him to cross draw his weapon and point it toward the camera. According to the affidavit, armorer Hannah Gutierrez — who was in charge of managing all the firearms on set and making sure they were safely handled — had left three guns on a cart outside the building. Halls picked one up from there and, saying “cold gun,” handed it to Baldwin.

After hearing “what sounded like a whip and then loud pop,” Souza saw Hutchins grab her abdomen and stumble backward. He was bleeding from his shoulder and said he saw blood on Hutchins as well. Russell, who was standing nearby, recalled Hutchins saying she couldn’t feel her legs.

Authorities said on Oct. 27 that a "lead projectile” was recovered from director Joel Souza’s shoulder as evidence in the fatal “Rust” set shooting. (Video: Reuters)

Details of the tragedy drew attention to alleged mismanagement of firearms on set. Chief electrician Serge Svetnoy said on Facebook that the incident was “the fault of negligence and unprofessionalism.”

Svetnoy accused “Rust” producers of cutting corners for the sake of the budget, sacrificing safety as a result. Though he did not mention Gutierrez by name, he expressed concern over her inexperience as a 24-year-old armorer and wrote that “to save a dime sometimes, you hire people who are not fully qualified for the complicated and dangerous job, and you risk the lives of the other people.”

A shooting death on ‘Rust’ set has put movie armorers in the spotlight

Gutierrez is the daughter of established Hollywood armorer Thell Reed and had held the position on one other film before “Rust.” Experts previously told The Washington Post that armorers generally train by interning for or otherwise working with master armorers, an industry term describing seasoned armorers overseeing those with less experience. Jeremy Goldstein, an Israeli military veteran and an armorer himself, said he was alarmed to learn that Halls, an assistant director, had handled the weapon.

“No crew member should be handling a weapon of any kind other than the armorer, designated prop person or actor. Full stop,” Goldstein wrote in an email. “The armorer must clear all firearms with the [first assistant director] when bringing them to set, and verify that they are unloaded. Then the armorer does the same with the actor, but the firearm does not leave the custody of the armorer or designated prop person.”

In a separate affidavit, a detective wrote that Gutierrez said she had “checked the ‘dummies’ and ensured they were not ‘hot’ rounds.” When the crew broke for lunch, Gutierrez kept the firearms locked in a safe but left the ammo unsecured on a cart. Two people referred to only as Sarah and Zachary retrieved the firearms from the safe after the break and gave them to Gutierrez.

The armorer told the detective that “no live ammo is ever kept on set.”

Halls also spoke to the detective, describing the gun safety protocol as follows: “I check the barrel for obstructions, most of the time there’s no live fire, she [Gutierrez] opens the hatch and spins the drum, and I say cold gun on set.” The assistant director could only recall seeing three rounds when Gutierrez showed him the revolver before Baldwin rehearsed the scene.

According to the detective, Halls “advised he should have checked all of them, but didn’t, and couldn’t recall if she spun the drum.”

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This wasn’t the first set on which Halls was involved in a gun incident. A producer on the film “Freedom’s Path” told The Post on Monday that Halls was fired from the project in 2019 after a crew member was injured by a firearm unexpectedly discharging.

“Halls was removed from set immediately after the prop gun discharged,” said the producer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the current investigation. “Production did not resume filming until Dave was off-site.”

Though prop guns are often thought of as nonfunctioning weapons, the term can also refer to real guns loaded with blank cartridges. Stephen Hunter, a thriller writer and expert in gun history who once served as film critic for The Post, said the Colt, introduced in 1873, stands out among the many brands of handguns from the latter part of the 19th century. It is a popular choice for westerns, Hunter said, because it exhibits a “peculiar grace and beauty.”

A taste for realism often drives the use of firearms on Hollywood productions — a practice that is being widely reevaluated in light of the tragedy on the set of “Rust.” Craig Zobel, who directed and executive-produced the HBO miniseries “Mare of Easttown,” tweeted last week that there is “no reason to have guns loaded with blanks or anything on set anymore.”

“There’s computers now. The gunshots on Mare of Easttown are all digital,” he continued. “You can probably tell, but who cares? It’s an unnecessary risk.”

Alexi Hawley, showrunner of the ABC police procedural “The Rookie,” sent a memo to staff last week stating that there would be “no more ‘live’ weapons on the show.” Instead, all gunfire on set would be “Air Soft guns with CG muzzle flashes added in post.”

Shortly after the news of Hutchins’s death, Stephen Lighthill, the American Film Institute’s dean of cinematography who also serves as president of the American Society of Cinematographers, drew attention to the need for strict safety protocols to be followed on set.

Hutchins, Lighthill’s former student, “had a big career in front of her and a supportive family to share her success with,” he said. “Her death is a reminder that production should never be dangerous, but often is, and we must all work to fix that.”

Elizabeth Miller, Travis M. Andrews, Timothy Bella and Will Englund contributed to this report.

Alec Baldwin prop gun shooting

Alec Baldwin fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured a director on a film set in New Mexico after discharging a prop firearm during the filming of “Rust." A script supervisor has sued producers, including Alec Baldwin, saying scene did not call for gun to be fired.