Santa Fe, NM – The assistant director who handed Alec Baldwin the “prop” gun moments before the actor fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza should never have been handling the weapon in the first place, according to a veteran armorer.
Armorer Clan Van Sickle, who was not among the personnel working on the “Rust” film, said assistant director Dave Halls should never have been handling any of the prop weapons on the set, let alone grabbing one and handing it to Baldwin, Today reported.
“I’ll be honest with you, that AD (assistant director) would have broken fingers if they picked up a gun off my cart,” Van Sickle told Today during an interview on Tuesday. “That does not happen.”
The armor explained his process for verifying weapon safety on the set, and said his routine only takes a fraction of a minute to complete.
“I would click through, six times, for everybody to hear — nothing happens,” Van Sickle told Today. “It’s literally that simple, and it takes seconds, and there’s no reason not to do it.”
Veteran prop master Neal Zoromski told Today during an interview Tuesday that he turned down a job offer to work on Baldwin’s “Rust” feature because he “felt it was completely unsafe.”
Zoromski said he was particularly concerned by the fact that producers combined the jobs of the armorer and the assistant prop master into a single position for the movie.
“I impressed upon them that there were great concerns about that, and they didn’t really respond to my concerns about that,” he told Today.
Halls was previously fired from another film, “Freedom’s Path,” in 2019, after a firearm discharged on set and injured a crew member, Today reported.
The exact nature and extent of the crew member’s injuries were unclear, but the victim was able to return to work.
“Dave was very remorseful for the events and understood the reasons he was being terminated,” the producer of the 2019 film said, according to Today.
Special effects technician Maggie Goll said she worked with Halls on the set of a Hulu series in 2019.
Goll accused him of failing to “maintain a safe working environment” during that project, Today reported.
Goll said Halls often yelled at people, urging them to “get things done” and ignored them when they said they needed more time “to do something safely,” according to the news outlet.
She said she told production about her concerns, but claimed nothing was done.
“Same thing that happened on our show happened here, but with much more devastating effects,” Goll said, according to Today. “You can’t help but think, ‘Did I do enough?’”
Halls did not respond to requests for comment about the shooting, NBC News reported.
According to court documents, Halls called out “cold gun” before handing the firearm to Baldwin on Oct. 21, CNN reported.
The term “cold gun” is supposed to be used when referring to a firearm not containing any live ammunition, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office (SFCSO) said in an application for a warrant to search the film set.
The gun Halls gave to Baldwin was one of three firearms the movie’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez, had placed in a cart for use in the “Rust” movie, CNN reported.
Souza, 48, told investigators he was not sure whether or not the firearms were rechecked for safety after the cast and crew returned from a lunch break on Oct. 21, NBC News reported.
“Joel advised they returned back to the set after lunch, although he is not sure if the firearm was checked again,” the search warrant read.
“Joel said as far as he knows, no one gets checked for live ammunition on their person prior and after the scenes are being filmed,” the affidavit read, according to the Los Angeles Times. “The only thing checked are the firearms to avoid live ammunition being in them. Joel stated there should never be live rounds whatsoever, near or around the scene.”
Baldwin was practicing with the gun when the deadly shooting occurred, NBC News reported.
“Joel stated they had Alec sitting in a pew in a church building setting, and he was practicing a cross draw,” the affidavit read. “Joel said he was looking over the shoulder of Halayna, when he heard what sounded like a whip and then loud pop.”
According to the warrant, Souza said Hutchins, 42, immediately began “complaining about her stomach and grabbing her midsection,” NBC News reported.
“Joel also said Halayna began to stumble backwards and she was assisted to the ground,” investigators said in the filing. “Joel explained that he was bleeding from his shoulder and he could see blood on Halayna.”
Hutchins had been shot in the chest, and Souza was shot in his right shoulder, according to court documents.
Cameraman Reid Russell told deputies they were not filming when the incident occurred.
Hutchins was rushed to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she succumbed to her wounds, the SFCSO confirmed.
She leaves behind her husband and her nine-year-old son, CNN reported.
Souza was transported to St. Vincent Medical Center and remained hospitalized Sunday, NBC News reported.
“Joel Souza is recovering, and we are supporting him however we can knowing just how difficult his journey is,” Rust Movies Production, LLC, told its cast and crew members in a letter, according to the news outlet.
“We are conducting an internal review of safety protocols,” the company noted. “As with any ongoing investigation, we are limited in our ability to say anything further publicly or privately, and ask for your patience in that regards.”
The production company said filming has been shut down due to the ongoing investigation, but it did not rule out restarting the project again in the future, according to the Los Angeles Times.
According to the union that represents prop masters, the gun used in the scene had contained a live round, Indie Wire reported.
“A live single round was accidentally fired on set by the principal actor, hitting both the Director of Photography, Local 600 member Halnya Hutchins, and Director Joel Souza,” Local 44 Secretary-Treasurer Anthony Pawluc wrote in an email. “Local 44 has confirmed that the Props, Set Decoration, Special Effects and Construction Departments were staffed by New Mexico crew members. There were no Local 44 members on the call sheet.”
The shooting occurred just six hours after the union crew left after a dispute over unsafe working conditions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
A member of the crew told the paper that the camera crew arrived on the set at 6:30 a.m. on Oct 21 and began gathering their gear and personal belongings so they could leave.
There had been problems on the set at the famous Bonanza Creek Ranch, where epic films like “Blazing Saddles” and “All the Pretty Horses” were filmed, since production began, according to the source.
When filming started on Oct. 6, crewmembers were upset over production’s failure to provide promised hotel rooms in Santa Fe to help the crew avoid the daily 50-mile commute each way to Albuquerque.
The camera crew were all members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.
Multiple sources told the Los Angeles Times that camera operators and their assistants were frustrated by the working conditions.
Sources complained of problems with their hours and getting their paychecks from the low-budget film.
As the crew was assembling their gear the morning of the fatal shooting, several nonunion camera crew members arrived to replace them, sources told the Los Angeles Times.
Then somebody on the production staff told the union members to leave the set.
The source told the Los Angeles Times that a producer threatened to call security to remove the union crew members if they didn’t leave on their own.
“Corners were being cut — and they brought in nonunion people so they could continue shooting,” the source said.
The source told the Los Angeles Times that there had been two misfires with the prop gun on Oct. 16, and another the week before.
“There was a serious lack of safety meetings on this set,” the source said.
The production company denied the allegations in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.
“The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company,” Rust Movie Productions LLC said in a statement. “Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down. We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”
A source who was on the set when the double-shooting occurred said Baldwin was distraught and repeatedly asked why he was given a “hot gun,” Showbiz 411 reported.
“In all my years, I’ve never been handed a hot gun,” the actor repeated over and over, according to the source.
In addition to starring in the film, Baldwin is one of the producers and co-wrote the movie alongside Souza, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
He willingly provided a statement to investigators, sheriff’s department spokesman Juan Rios told The New York Times.
“Detectives are investigating how and what type of projectile was discharged,” SFCSO said in statement.
Hutchins was originally from Ukraine and was raised on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, according to the paper.
The self-described “adrenaline junkie” and “restless dreamer” studied journalism in Ukraine before relocating to Los Angeles to study film, The New York Times reported.
Baldwin, an Academy Award nominee, has won numerous Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards during his lengthy career in movies and television, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
In 2017, Baldwin took to Twitter to denounce Huntington Beach Police Officer Eric Esparza after Officer Esparza fatally shot a suspect who punched him and tried to grab his gun, the New York Post reported.
“I wonder how it must feel to wrongfully kill someone,” Baldwin wrote.
The shooting was later ruled as justified.
Halls previously worked as first assistant director in “The Crow: Salvation” in 2000, a sequel to the 1993 movie “The Crow,” starring Brandon Lee, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Lee, 28, was fatally shot by a “prop gun” while recording the 1993 film.