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Alec Baldwin shoots prop gun, killing 1, injuring another on set of 'Rust,' officials say

The film's director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, was killed and director Joel Souza was injured on the set in New Mexico.
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Producer and actor Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun Thursday that killed one crew member and injured another on the set of the movie “Rust” in New Mexico, the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office said.

The film's director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, 42, was killed, and director Joel Souza, 48, was injured when Baldwin, 63, discharged the stage firearm, the agency said in a statement Thursday evening.

Image: Director of photography Halyna Hutchins.
"Rust" director of photography Halyna Hutchins.Fred Hayes / Getty Images for SAGindie file

Hutchins was flown by helicopter to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead, according to the sheriff's office.

Agents for Hutchins said in a statement on Friday that the cinematographer was a rising star of the craft who was relentlessly cheerful and optimistic.

“Halyna Hutchins was a ray of light. Always smiling, always hopeful," according to the statement. "She decided early on she would take the craft of cinematography by storm and the last couple of years proved she was well on her way. Her talent was immense, only surpassed by the love she had for her family. All those in her orbit knew what was coming; a star director of photography, who would be a force to be reckoned with."

Souza was taken to the hospital by ambulance, officials said.

Frances Fisher, who stars in the movie, tweeted overnight that Souza was out of the hospital. His spokesperson confirmed the news Friday in an email to NBC News.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Baldwin was seen Thursday outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office in tears. Images obtained by NBC News showed Baldwin in a parking lot outside the sheriff's office. In one photo, the actor is seen bending over by the curbside, and in another speaking on the phone.

Image: Alec Baldwin takes a call in the parking lot outside the sheriff's offices.
Alec Baldwin takes a call in the parking lot outside the sheriff's offices.Jim Weber / The New Mexican

In his first comments about the prop gun shooting, Baldwin on Friday said he was in contact with Hutchins' family.

"There are no words to convey my shock and sadness regarding the tragic accident that took the life of Halyna Hutchins, a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours," Baldwin tweeted.

He added: "I'm fully cooperating with the police investigation to address how this tragedy occurred and I am in touch with her husband, offering my support to him and his family. My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna."

No charges have been filed, the sheriff's office said, adding that the investigation is ongoing. Sheriff's deputies were dispatched around 1:50 p.m. local time (3:50 p.m. ET) after a 911 call about a shooting on the set, the office said.

“A live single round was accidentally fired on set by the principal actor, hitting both the Director of Photography, Local 600 member Halyna Hutchins, and Director Joel Souza,” the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 44 said in an email to its members.

Local 44 Secretary-Treasurer Anthony Pawluc characterized the tragedy as “an accidental weapons discharge" and noted that its members were not involved.

“Local 44 has confirmed that the Props, Set Decoration, Special Effects and Construction Departments were staffed by New Mexico crew members,” Pawluc said in a statement. “There were no Local 44 members on the call sheet. On behalf of Local 44’s Officers, Executive Board and Staff, our thoughts and prayers go out to Halyna and her family. We also send good thoughts to Joel and his family for a full recovery.”

Bonanza Creek Ranch is often used for Western productions, including the recent Tom Hanks Western "News of the World." Aerial video from NBC affiliate KOB of Albuquerque showed an old church that appeared to be blocked off.

On Oct. 6, the New Mexico Film Office announced that "Rust" was filming and would be in production until early November in Santa Fe. The production would employ approximately 75 New Mexico crew members, 22 principal actors and 230 "background talent."

The film centers on a 13-year-old boy who goes on the run with his estranged grandfather after he is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a rancher in the 1880s, according to the movie's logline.

Hutchins was originally from Ukraine, and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle surrounded by reindeer and nuclear submarines, according to her website. Before graduating from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles, she studied journalism in Ukraine and worked as an investigative journalist with British documentary productions in Europe.

On her Instagram account she describes herself as a "restless dreamer" and an "adrenaline junkie." Recent posts included a group shot of the cast and crew on set of "Rust" in New Mexico. Another post showed a video of Hutchins riding a horse, along with the caption: "One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off."

Hutchins worked as director of photography on the 2020 action film “Archenemy,” starring Joe Manganiello.

“I’m so sad about losing Halyna. And so infuriated that this could happen on a set,” said “Archenemy” director Adam Egypt Mortimer on Twitter. “She was a brilliant talent who was absolutely committed to art and to film.”

"I was lucky to have known her and to have worked with her," he said.

Alec Baldwin leans over in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's offices after being questioned on the shooting.
Alec Baldwin leans over in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff's offices after being questioned on the shooting.Jim Weber / The New Mexican

Manganiello also took to social media to post his condolences to Hutchins' family, "and especially to her son."

"She was a great collaborator and an ally to anyone in front of her camera. Everyone who knew her was rooting for her," Manganiello posted on Instagram. "I can’t believe that this could happen in this day and age… gunfire from a prop gun could kill a crew member? This is a horrible tragedy."

Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Oleh Nikolenko, said the ministry had received confirmation of Hutchins' Ukrainian citizenship. The Consulate General of Ukraine in San Francisco is cooperating with U.S. law enforcement, and consuls also liaise with relatives to provide the necessary consular and legal assistance, Nikolenko added.

An Emmy-award winning actor, Baldwin is well-known for his role as Jack Donaghy in NBC’s "30 Rock" and for his impersonations of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.” A Democratic activist, he is also known for having a Twitter feud with the former president.

On Thursday, Baldwin posted a picture of himself on Instagram in costume, along with what appeared to be a fake wound on his stomach. The post, which has since been deleted, was captioned: "Back to in person at the office. Blimey ... it's exhausting."

Baldwin has teamed up as a producer previously with Souza on the 2019 film, “Crown Vic,” which starred Thomas Jane as a veteran Los Angeles police officer on the hunt for two violent bank robbers, according to The Associated Press.

Image: Joel Souza attends the Crown Vic screening at Village East Cinema, in New York, on Nov. 6, 2019.
Joel Souza.Ron Adar / Sipa USA via AP file

Exactly how the incident unfolded Thursday was not clear.

Hollywood weapons expert Larry Zanoff said that when firearms are used as props in the television and movie industry only blanks — cartridges that do not hold bullets — are allowed on set.

Even so, there is a minimum safety distance of 20 feet in front of the muzzle because even with a blank, smoke and burning embers can get propelled out of the gun, he said.

“There should be nothing in front of it when filming is occurring with firearms,” Zanoff said.

The weapons should also be inspected before and after each scene, and there should be a safety briefing as part of the protocol, he added.

“We have a series of guidelines in the industry that govern the use of blank firearms and ammunition on set,” he said. “So my question is, of course, firstly, was that protocol followed?”

In 1993, "The Crow" actor Brandon Lee died in a filming accident after he was shot with a prop gun. The son of the martial arts film icon Bruce Lee was 28.

A verified account for Brandon Lee, which is run by his sister Shannon Lee, according to the bio, tweeted late Thursday that "our hearts go out" to Hutchins' and Souza's families and all involved in the incident.

"No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period," the account tweeted.

In 1984, the actor Jon-Erik Hexum died playing Russian roulette with a stage pistol loaded with blank and empty cartridges on the set of the "Cover Up" TV series, UPI reported at the time.

In a statement Friday, Innovative Artists, the agency that represented Hutchins, said they "hope this tragedy will reveal new lessons for how to better ensure safety for every crew member on set."