Investigators suspect it was a metal bullet, not a blank, that killed cinematographer

Santa Fe County Sheriff Mendoza also points to ‘complacency’ on the film set

By: - October 27, 2021 12:26 pm

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza announces some findings of the death of Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust” (Patrick Lohmann | Source NM)

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Juan Rios confirmed with Source New Mexico in a phone call after the news conference Wednesday that investigators suspect it was a real metal bullet that killed Halyna Hutchins, 42, last week on the set of “Rust.”

Sheriff Adan Mendoza said there was “complacency” on the set of the New Mexico-filmed movie, and practices need to be improved in the film industry to prevent such a thing from happening again. 

UPDATE: This story was updated at 1:15 p.m. to reflect new information about the bullet from the Sheriff’s Office.

Hutchins, 42, was shot southwest of Santa Fe when star Alec Baldwin fired a revolver on set during rehearsal for a scene in the Western based in 1880s Kansas. Director Joel Souza was shot in the shoulder but survived. 

Mendoza announced some findings of the investigation Wednesday at a news conference, fielding questions from dozens of local and national journalists. He said investigators suspect the gun Baldwin fired contained a “live round.” District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said charges are still possible against those involved, including Baldwin, the film’s armorer and an assistant director.

The sheriff also said deputies are still investigating how the live round was placed in the gun Baldwin used, but whatever the case, safety standards were not sufficient to ensure it was discovered before it was placed in the actor’s hands. 

“There was some complacency on this set,” he said. “And I think there are some safety issues that need to be addressed by the industry, possibly by the state of New Mexico, but I’ll leave that up to the industry and the state.”

The sheriff did not specify what changes could be made to make the set safer, though a cast member told Source New Mexico the film’s production schedule was too tight and the crew overworked, and that could have been a factor.

‘Rust’ cast member: Production was rushed, crew overworked before fatal shooting

It’s so far unclear whether the state will adopt any new movie safety laws in light of Hutchins’ death. State lawmakers have not yet introduced proposed legislation for the upcoming legislative session. 

At least two people came into contact with the gun before it was given to Baldwin for the scene, in which he pointed the gun at the camera. 

“The people that inspected or handled the firearm when it was loaded before it got to Mr. Baldwin, we’re interviewing,” Mendoza said. 

Mendoza said everyone questioned so far has cooperated with the investigation. 

Evidence collected from the scene, including unspent ammunition, is being analyzed with the help of the FBI. About 500 rounds of ammo were collected. 

Two other handguns on the scene that day were collected, but they appear to be disabled or used only as props, Mendoza said. 

The sheriff did not indicate when his office might complete its investigation, saying the matter is complex and that much evidence is still being processed. 

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.

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