SANTA FE — On a ranch in northern New Mexico, where the cottonwoods and the dusty foothills have formed the backdrop of Westerns since the 1950s, Alec Baldwin was filming a new movie on Thursday afternoon when his character, an outlaw, needed a gun.
An assistant director grabbed one of three prop guns that the film’s armorer had set up outside on a gray cart, handed it to Mr. Baldwin, and, according to an affidavit signed by Detective Joel Cano of the Santa Fe County sheriff’s office, yelled “Cold Gun!” — which was supposed to indicate that the gun did not have any live rounds in it.
When Mr. Baldwin fired the gun, law enforcement officials said, it struck and killed the film’s cinematographer and wounded its director — and raised new questions about firearms safety on film sets.
The assistant director “did not know live rounds were in the prop-gun” when he gave it to Mr. Baldwin, according to the affidavit, which was made as part of a search warrant application. The affidavit did not specify what kind of ammunition the gun had been loaded with.
The results were deadly: Halyna Hutchins, 42, the film’s director of photography, was struck in the chest and flown to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, where she died, officials said. Joel Souza, 48, the film’s director, was shot in the shoulder area and wounded; he was taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe and later released.
“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,” Mr. Baldwin, 63, said in a statement Friday on Twitter. “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.”
The plot of the film Mr. Baldwin was shooting, “Rust,” hinges on an accidental killing and its aftermath. Suddenly the movie set — on Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe County — became the scene of a real killing, and a real investigation.
Juan Rios, a spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said on Friday afternoon that the investigation “remains active and ongoing” and that “detectives entered the movie set today and continue to interview potential witnesses.”
“Regarding the projectile, a focus of the investigation is what type it was and how did it get there,” Mr. Rios said.
The affidavit said that the three guns had been left on a gray cart outside the structure where Mr. Baldwin was working on a scene “due to Covid-19 restrictions.” With the search warrant, the detectives were seeking additional evidence that could help shed light on the events leading up to the fatal shooting: footage or video captured during the filming, computer and cellphones left on set, as well as other firearms and ammunition.
There have been reports of labor unrest on the set of the film, where Mr. Baldwin also served as a producer. Several members of the crew walked off the set earlier this week over working conditions, according to several people familiar with the shoot.
Three private security guards stood at the locked gate to the Bonanza Creek Ranch around midday on Friday, telling journalists that access to the property was restricted. Earlier in the day, several unmarked vehicles from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department and the medical examiner’s office entered the site. Helicopters, apparently used by news organizations, hovered overhead at times.
Oct. 22, 2021, 7:17 p.m. ET
On film sets, the safety protocols for using guns are well established and straightforward: Weapons must be tightly managed by licensed armorers, cast members should be trained in gun safety, and live ammunition should never be used.
Productions typically use real guns that are loaded with blanks, which can still be dangerous since they involve gunpowder, a cartridge and paper wadding or wax, which provide a realistic-looking flame and spark. (When people are injured by firearms on sets, it usually involves a burn to the hand, safety coordinators said.)
But in this case it was evident that something had gone very wrong, experts in film safety said. “Protocol had to have been broken,” said Daniel Leonard, an associate dean of Chapman University’s film school who specializes in set procedures. “We will have to see what the details are, but the industry has a very specific set of guidelines to follow to prevent something like this from happening.”
Larry Zanoff, an armorer for films who worked on the set of “Django Unchained” and was not involved in “Rust,” said that in general, only blank ammunition — a cartridge case with no bullet — is sanctioned on a film set. Productions sometimes use prop guns, such as rubber guns or replica guns, but oftentimes they use actual firearms firing blanks, he said.
“The safety guidelines that we live by on television and movie sets prohibit the use of live ammunition on a set,” he said. A production will typically institute rules for keeping a safe distance from the muzzle of a gun, which is usually 20 feet, he added.
Mr. Rios said on Thursday night that the sheriff’s office had not filed charges against anyone in connection with the shooting.
In a statement Friday, the movie’s production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, said: “The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company. 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.”
In a statement, John Lindley, the national president of the International Cinematographers Guild, and Rebecca Rhine, the organization’s national executive director, called Ms. Hutchins’s death “devastating news.”
“The details are unclear at this moment, but we are working to learn more, and we support a full investigation into this tragic event,” their statement said. “This is a terrible loss, and we mourn the passing of a member of our Guild’s family.”
Mr. Baldwin, an Emmy Award-winning actor, has had a long career in movies, plays and television. In one of his best-known roles, he played Jack Donaghy, an oblivious, domineering TV executive on the sitcom “30 Rock,” which ran on NBC from 2006 to 2013.
Serious accidents on television and movie sets, including some with firearms, have occurred with some regularity over the last several decades. In 1984, the actor Jon-Erik Hexum accidentally shot himself in the head and died while playing Russian roulette on set; the force of a blank round’s explosion fractured his skull.
And there was an accident on a movie set in 1993 in which the actor Brandon Lee, Bruce Lee’s son, was shot and killed during a scene when a bullet that was lodged in the barrel of a gun was discharged along with a blank cartridge. “Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza,” Brandon Lee’s sister Shannon Lee tweeted late Thursday.
Simon Romero reported from Santa Fe, Julia Jacobs from New York, and Glenn Thrush from Washington, D.C. Alyssa Lukpat, Michael Levenson, Brooks Barnes, Graham Bowley and Nicole Sperling contributed reporting.