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Criminal charges still possible in ‘Rust’ shooting, sheriff says

Newly released evidence gives a glimpse into the leads investigators pursue after Alec Baldwin's gun was filled with a live round on a movie set.

The Bonanza Creek Ranch, where the film "Rust" was being filmed, appears in Santa Fe, N.M. on Oct. 23, 2021. Jae C. Hong/AP Photo, File


Six months after Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer on the set of the film “Rust” while practicing with a gun that had been improperly loaded with live ammunition, Santa Fe County, New Mexico, Sheriff Adan Mendoza said Tuesday that “I don’t think anybody is off the hook when it comes to criminal charges.”

Live ammunition is not supposed to be used on film sets. In an interview on NBC’s “Today” show, Mendoza said that no one had admitted to bringing live rounds onto the set of “Rust” but indicated that he was concerned by evidence suggesting that a member of its crew had expressed interest in using live ammunition while working on a previous film.

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“There was information from text messages that was concerning, based on the fact that live ammo was spoke about and was possibly used on a prior movie set,” Mendoza said in the interview, “and that was just a few months before the ‘Rust’ movie set and production began.”

He appeared to be referring to text messages from the “Rust” armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for gun safety on the set, in which she indicated that she had expressed interest in shooting “actual ammunition” when she was working on a Nicolas Cage Western called “The Old Way,” which was filmed in Montana.

Gutierrez-Reed texted Seth Kenney, who provides weapons and ammunition for film productions, in August and asked him whether she could “shoot hot rounds,” according to a summary of the text exchange released this week by investigators.

Kenney texted her back, asking what she meant by “hot round.”

“Like a pretty big load of actual ammunition,” Gutierrez-Reed replied.

Kenney told her to never shoot live ammunition out of guns being used on a film set, texting, “It’s a serious mistake, always ends in tears.”

“Good to know,” Gutierrez-Reed replied, according to the case report. “I’m still gonna shoot mine tho.”

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The summary of the text exchange was included in a tranche of evidence and investigative reports that was released Monday by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. The documents indicated some of the threads that detectives have been following as they try to determine how live ammunition got into the gun Baldwin was practicing with Oct. 21 when it discharged, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

The newly released evidence paints a picture of a sometimes chaotic film set, where some crew members had expressed concerns about gun safety and, after Hutchins’ death, some crew members disparaged others in texts and to investigators.

The sheriff’s office said Monday that it is waiting on several key pieces of evidence that it needs to complete its investigation.

Jason Bowles, a lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed, said in an email that his client’s text messages indicated that she had been asking Kenney, then a mentor, when she could fire rounds “through a historical weapon to see how it functioned.” He said that she never intended to fire it during production or while on the set.

“Hannah has never brought live rounds to any movie set nor has she ever fired them on set,” Bowles said in the email.

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Gutierrez-Reed was 24 and had been working as an armorer for less than a year when she took the “Rust” job, her second as an armorer. The daughter of a well-known Hollywood armorer named Thell Reed, she told detectives that she had been “handling guns her whole life.”

Gutierrez-Reed’s discussion of live ammunition on the Montana film set is not the only thread investigators have been following.

Around the same time that Gutierrez-Reed was on the set of “The Old Way,” her father and Kenney were in Texas training actors in the Paramount+ Western series “1883,” according to notes from a detective’s interview with Reed from November. Part of Reed’s job was training actors with live ammunition in an area away from the set, and he told a detective that the rest of his ammunition ended up being left with Kenney.

One of the questions investigators have focused on is where the ammunition used on “Rust” came from. Kenney supplied “Rust” with ammunition and about 30 guns, and Gutierrez-Reed sued Kenney and his company earlier this year, alleging that the company had in fact supplied the movie with a mixture of dummy rounds and live ammunition.

Kenney said in an interview that the ammo can Reed referenced was in Texas and remained there until November, after the shooting. He said he was confident that the single box of aged ammunition that he supplied was not the source of the live round, saying he had personally rattle tested each of the 50 rounds that went to “Rust” two times.

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“When I pick up a dummy round, I have to rattle it,” Kenney said.

In a text message released by investigators, Sarah Zachry, the movie’s prop master, wrote that some extra dummy rounds came from an individual named Billy Ray, while “Hannah brought in some ammo and/or dummies from her previous production.”

According to a report by a detective, Alexandria Hancock, investigators also recovered a photo of two firearms at an indoor range from a phone owned by Dave Halls, the first assistant director on “Rust.” The photo was dated three days before the fatal shooting, according to the report, and Hancock wrote that she had asked Halls’ lawyer, Lisa Torraco, earlier this month for an explanation but had not received a response.

Torraco didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The detectives’ questioning has also focused on how the gun was checked after it was loaded with ammunition by Gutierrez-Reed, who believed she was loading dummy rounds. She carried the gun into the church and handed it to Halls, who examined the rounds in the chamber and declared the gun was “cold,” before handing it to Baldwin.

The detective interviews described panic from members of the production team as they tried to make sense of what went wrong that afternoon, when the .45 Long Colt discharged, shooting a bullet through Hutchins and into the shoulder of the movie’s director, Joel Souza.

After the fatal shooting, Zachry took the fired cartridge and compared it with other ammunition from the box it was pulled from, according to detective notes from an interview with Zachry. Those rounds were marked as dummy rounds — which contain no gunpowder and are used as stand-ins for real bullets on camera — and could be identified as dummies by a rattling sound they make when shaken, according to detective notes.

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“Sarah said she found some rattled and some that didn’t, which led her to believe there was more ‘live rounds,’” the notes said.

Gutierrez-Reed told detectives she had loaded the gun for Baldwin’s character before lunch on the day the fatal incident occurred, taking the rounds from a white box marked “dummies” from a prop cart and checking to make sure they either rattled or had a hole drilled in the side, which is another way of distinguishing a dummy round.

One, however, wouldn’t go in the gun, so she decided to clean the gun. In her interview with a detective that day, Gutierrez-Reed said she was cleaning the gun after lunch when Halls said over the radio that the gun was needed.

“She said she did check the round before loading it into the gun, and it seemed fine to her, but she checked it while Dave was speaking over the radio in her earpiece as she shook it,” the detective’s report read.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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