Alec Baldwin was pointing gun at camera when it went off, director says

·5 min read
<span>Photograph: Phillip Caruso/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Phillip Caruso/Reuters

Alec Baldwin was practising a scene that involved him pointing a gun “towards the camera lens” when it accidentally went off, killing his director of photography, according to a written statement by the film’s director.

The director, Joel Souza, said he heard what “sounded like a whip and then a loud pop”. He said he saw the cinematographer Halyna Hutchins clutch her midriff and stumble backwards. Souza noticed that he himself was bleeding from the right shoulder.

The cameras were not rolling at the time. Baldwin was sitting on a wooden church pew on the set and trying out a scene in which he would “cross-draw” a revolver from its holster. Hutchins and Souza were checking the camera angle.

Moments before the accident, Baldwin was assured he was handling a “cold gun”, Souza told investigators. The film’s armourer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, checked prop weapons, and the assistant director, Dave Halls, rechecked them and handed them to the actors, Souza said. It was Halls who gave Baldwin the gun, police said.

Affidavits released on Sunday night paint a picture of a dysfunctional and feuding set, where five crew members walked out last Thursday just hours before the fatal shooting at Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico. They were unhappy with pay and conditions.

Halls was the subject of an internal complaint on a previous movie, it emerged over the weekend. Maggie Goll, a prop maker and licensed pyrotechnician, said she had raised concerns about Hall’s conduct on set with the executive producers of Hulu’s Into the Dark TV series in 2019. He has yet to comment.

Related: Rust assistant director who gave Alec Baldwin gun ‘was subject of 2019 safety complaint’

“This situation is not about Dave Halls … It’s in no way one person’s fault,” Goll said, adding that there were larger issues about the wellbeing of crew that had to be addressed. “It’s a bigger conversation about safety on set and what we are trying to achieve with that culture,” she added.

Further concerns were raised about Halls on Monday, after a producer who communicated with the Associated Press said Hall had been fired from a previous job after a gun went off on a previous film set and wounded a member of the crew. The producer, who asked not to be identified by name, wrote that Halls “was removed from the set immediately”.

A police investigation continued on Monday, and new court documents showed that authorities seized three black revolvers, ammunition boxes, a fanny pack with ammunition, several spent casings, two leather gun belts with holsters, articles of clothing and swabs of what was believed to be blood.

Authorities did not say what type of ammunition they had removed from the set or whether it included live or dummy bullets or blank cartridges.

Investigators hope a forensic analysis of ballistic evidence will shed light on those questions, Juan Rios, a spokesman for the Santa Fe sheriff’s department, said on Monday.

“This is a complicated case,” he said.

In an Instagram post on Monday, Baldwin’s wife, Hilaria, wrote: “My heart is with Halyna. Her husband. Her son. Their family and loved ones. And my Alec.

“It’s said, ‘There are no words’ because it’s impossible to express the shock and heartache of such a tragic accident. Heartbreak. Loss. Support.”

One of the central mysteries about the killing Hutchins remains what kind of projectile was fired from the gun and how it got there. The Hollywood website TMZ, citing unnamed sources, said crew members were using the weapon for recreational shooting during breaks. It also alleged that live ammunition and blanks were being stored in the same area.

The Santa Fe sheriff’s county office has yet to comment on the reports. As part of its investigation it has seized all relevant evidence including the gun, camera memory cards and bone fragments, as well as taking statements from cast and crew.

In an affidavit, the camera operator Reid Russell suggested Baldwin was not to blame for the incident. He described the actor as very careful and said on a previous occasion Baldwin had made sure a child actor was not near him when a gun was being discharged.

Russell said the crew walkout left him with extra work to do, with only one camera available to shoot. It had to be moved because the light had shifted and there was a shadow, he said. He added that he stepped outside for five minutes and did not know if the gun was checked before it reached Baldwin.

Russell told investigators that after the gun went off he “remembered Joel having blood on his person”. He added: “Ms Hutchins [was] speaking and saying she couldn’t feel her legs.”

Hutchins was pronounced dead after being flown by helicopter to the University of New Mexico hospital. Souza was treated at Christus St Vincent regional medical centre, where he was brought by ambulance.

A detective, Joel Cano, interviewed Souza on Friday afternoon. Souza told him “there should never be live rounds whatsoever, near or around the scene”, Cano wrote in an affidavit, according to the New York Times. Souza also said “everyone was getting along” and there were “no altercations”, the statement added.

The film’s chief electrician, Serge Svetnoy, blamed producers for Hutchins’ death in an emotional Facebook post on Sunday. Svetnoy said he had worked with Hutchins on multiple films and faulted “negligence and unprofessionalism” among those handling weapons on the set. He said producers hired an inexperienced armourer.

A vigil for Hutchins was held on Sunday in southern California. Attenders exchanged tearful hugs and speakers called for improved safety standards.

Baldwin, who is known for his roles in 30 Rock and The Hunt for Red October, and his impression of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, has described the killing as a “tragic accident”. On Friday he said there were “no words” to express his shock and sadness.

Agencies contributed reporting

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