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Alec Baldwin discharged prop gun that killed woman on movie set, sheriff says

Actor and producer Alec Baldwin fired the prop gun on a New Mexico movie set that killed the director of photography and injured the director, according to the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.

Two people were shot Thursday afternoon on the set: cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42; and the film’s director, Joel Souza, 48, according to a statement by the Sheriff’s Office.

Hutchins was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she was pronounced dead, the Sheriff’s Office said.

Souza is undergoing treatment for his injuries at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe.

The Sheriff’s Office said its deputies were dispatched to the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set, where filming was underway for the western film “Rust,” after calls to 911 at 1:50 p.m. Baldwin was starring in the movie, in addition to serving as one of the producers.

No charges have been filed, but the Sheriff’s Office said “witnesses continue to be interviewed by detectives.”

Production has been halted on the low-budget movie, which began filming this month.

Halyna was shooting the Western RUST when she died. Women cinematographers have historically been kept from genre film, and it seems especially cruel that one of the rising stars who was able to break through had her life cut short on the kind of project we’ve been fighting for.— 𝖊𝖑𝖑𝖊 𝖘𝖕𝖎𝖉𝖊𝖗 🕷️🕸️ (@elleschneider) October 22, 2021

“We received the devastating news this evening, that one of our members, Halyna Hutchins, the director of photography on a production called ‘Rust’ in New Mexico died from injuries sustained on the set,” the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 600 said in a statement Thursday night.

“The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event. This is a terrible loss, and we mourn the passing of a member of our guild’s family,” said the IATSE local, which represents nearly 8,000 camera workers, including cinematographers.

A spokesperson for Baldwin said there was an accident on the set involving the misfire of a prop gun with blanks.

It was unclear late Thursday how that might have happened even though protocols for the use of weapons and prop guns on movie sets are typically strict.

Usually, a prop master or a licensed armorer is responsible for handling weapons on set, including loading blanks. That person would be the one to monitor the gun’s use and show it to the assistant director or actors who might use it. Productions also often require shields to be used during filming, although not during rehearsals. Live ammunition is not allowed on a set.

The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper reported that Baldwin was seen Thursday outside the Sheriff’s Office in tears, but attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.

“According to investigators, it appears that the scene being filmed involved the use of a prop firearm when it was discharged,” said Sheriff’s Office spokesman Juan Rios. “Detectives are investigating how and what type of projectile was discharged.”

Deputies responded about 2 p.m. to the movie set at Bonanza Creek Ranch, which has been a popular filming location for more than 60 years, according to KOAT-TV, the ABC affiliate station in Albuquerque.

The first movie to film there was “The Man From Laramie” starring Jimmy Stewart. It also was the set for the classic “Blazing Saddles,” “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs” and the popular TV show “Longmire.”

The ranch has six sets, including an entire town with 24 buildings.

“Rust” is about a 13-year-old boy who is left to fend for himself and his younger brother after the death of their parents in 1880s Kansas, according to the Internet Movie Database website. The teen goes on the run with his long-estranged grandfather (played by Baldwin) after the boy is sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.

Filming for “Rust” was set to continue into early November, according to a news release from the New Mexico Film Office.

In addition to Baldwin, the producers on “Rust” included Ryan Smith (“Supercell”), Anjul Nigam (“Crown Vic”), Ryan Winterstern (“Titanic,” “Watchmen”), Nathan Klingher (“One Way”) and Matt DelPiano (“All Night Long”).

Other actors in the film include Travis Fimmel (“Raised by Wolves”) Frances Fisher (“Titanic”, “Unforgiven”) and Brady Noon (“Good Boys”).

Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on “Rust”. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period. 💔— Brandon Bruce Lee (@brandonblee) October 22, 2021

“The entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today’s tragedy, and we send our deepest condolences to Halyna’s family and loved ones,” the spokesperson for Rust Movies Productions LLC said in a statement.

There have been other high-profile fatalities on film sets involving prop guns.

In 1993, Brandon Lee, 28, son of the late martial-arts star Bruce Lee, died after being hit by a .44-caliber slug while filming a death scene for the movie “The Crow.” The gun was supposed to have fired a blank, but an autopsy turned up a bullet lodged near his spine.

Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, tweeted: “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on “Rust.” No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period.”

In 1984, actor Jon-Erik Hexum died after shooting himself in the head with a prop gun blank while pretending to play Russian roulette with a .44 Magnum on the set of the television series “Cover Up.”

Serious and sometimes fatal film set accidents are rare but have increased in recent years.

A 38-year-old crew member last month sustained critical injuries after a major fall at Sunset Gower Studios in Hollywood during construction for the Netflix film “Me Time,” which stars Kevin Hart and Mark Wahlberg.

“The Walking Dead” stuntman John Bernecker died in 2017 from injuries sustained while filming a scene in Georgia for the AMC series’ eighth season.

In the same state, crew member Sarah Jones was killed in a 2014 train accident during the making of “Midnight Rider,” and her family was awarded $11.2 million after filing a wrongful-death lawsuit.

A year earlier, a helicopter pilot, camera operator and crew member were killed in a helicopter crash in Acton during the filming of a reality series for Discovery Channel, the worst film-set accident in California in three decades.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.