The movie director injured after Alec Baldwin shot what he was told was a “cold”, or safe, gun said on Saturday he was “gutted” by the on-set death of a cinematographer.
Joel Souza, who was hit in the shoulder when Baldwin discharged the prop gun, which turned out to contain live rounds, broke his silence as the investigation entered its third day, with questions remaining over how the mistake killed Halyna Hutchins.
“I am gutted by the loss of my friend and colleague, Halyna. She was kind, vibrant, incredibly talented, fought for every inch and always pushed me to be better,” Souza said in a statement.
Baldwin was handed a loaded weapon by an assistant director who indicated it was safe to use in the moments before the actor fatally shot Hutchins, court records released on Friday show.
The assistant director did not know the prop gun was loaded with live rounds, according to a search warrant filed in a Santa Fe court.
As a film crew and actors, including Baldwin, in Western costumes prepared to rehearse a scene inside a wooden, chapel-like building on a desert movie ranch, assistant director Dave Halls stepped outside and grabbed a prop gun from three laid out on a cart.
He walked back in and handed it to Baldwin, the film’s star, assuring him it was safe to use because it didn’t have live ammunition.
“Cold gun,” Halls yelled. But it was not what movie workers term a safe, “cold”, weapon.
When Baldwin fired the gun, the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, was shot in the chest. The director, Joel Souza, who was standing behind her, was wounded, the records show.
Despite attempts to save her, Hutchins was pronounced dead after being flown by helicopter to the University of New Mexico hospital. Souza was taken by ambulance to Christus St Vincent regional medical centre, where he was treated and later released.
On Saturday, Souza did not give details of the accident or his injuries but said he was “humbled and grateful by the outpouring of affection we have received from our film-making community, the people of Santa Fe, and the hundreds of strangers who have reached out”.
The warrant was obtained on Friday so that investigators could document the scene at the ranch. It notes that Baldwin’s blood-stained costume for the western film Rust was taken as evidence, as was the weapon that was fired.
Investigators also seized other prop guns and ammunition that were being used during shooting of the film, starring Baldwin.
Earlier on Friday, Baldwin, who was also a producer on the film, described the killing as a “tragic accident”. Baldwin was performing at the time of the shooting, the sheriff’s office said. It was unclear how many rounds were fired, and little was known about the weapon.
“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. I’m fully cooperating with the police investigation,” Baldwin wrote on Twitter.
A sheriff’s spokesman, Juan Rios, said detectives were at the set on Friday morning gathering evidence and information.
No immediate charges were filed, and Baldwin was permitted to travel, he said.
“He’s a free man,” Rios said.
Guns used in making movies are sometimes real weapons that can fire either bullets or blanks, which are gunpowder charges that produce a flash and a bang but no deadly projectile. However, even blanks can eject hot gases and paper or plastic wadding from the barrel that can be lethal at close range. That proved to be the case in the death of an actor in 1984.
In another on-set accident in 1993, the actor Brandon Lee was killed after a bullet was left in a prop gun, and similar shootings have occurred involving stage weapons that were loaded with live rounds.
Gun-safety protocol on sets in the US has improved since then, said Steven Hall, a veteran director of photography in Britain. But he said one of the riskiest positions was behind the camera because that person is in the line of fire in scenes during which an actor appears to point a gun at the audience.
Hutchins, 42, was airlifted to a hospital, where she was pronounced dead. Souza, 48, who was wounded in the collarbone area, was taken by ambulance to a medical center.
“This investigation remains open and active,” Rios said in a statement.
One of Hutchins’ final social media posts was a photo of the Rust actors standing together in solidarity with crew members. She belonged to the IATSE union, which represents crew members. The union is to vote soon on a new contract with producers after threatening to strike in recent weeks over issues including long hours and on-set safety.
A report had emerged on Friday afternoon that a group of camera crew workers had walked off the set in a protest about poor working conditions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The paper reported that the group of about six camera crew workers – operators and assistants – who had walked off set were angry about working conditions on what the paper described as a low-budget movie where it said “labor trouble had been brewing for days”.
The crew complaints involved allegations of unsafe conditions, overly long hours and an unfair pay situation, three people who were familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak out officially told the publication.
Those who left the set are understood to have belonged to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE), which was recently on the brink of a strike over worsening working conditions.