A Wild West set town that’s been the backdrop for dozens of movies and fundraisers in Santa Fe County became a crime scene and a media circus last week as journalists from across the globe flocked to the area.
As of presstime, no charges had been filed against actor Alec Baldwin for shooting a revolver that had been a prop for his new 1880s Western Rust at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, and investigators with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department also had not hinted at whether any crew members who handled the weapon might face criminal liability.
While it appears authorities are taking their time to parse out what led to the shooting that killed 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza, 48, the story and the hype machine that’s driven it haven’t so much as paused in the six days since Baldwin fired.
After local television stations broke the news Thursday night, Hollywood-bathed press from the Los Angeles Times and TMZ jumped into the fray. Soon the two-lane Bonanza Creek Road would see television crews from cable networks along with the regional New York Times reporter. A writer for the New York Post showed up the next day, along with reporters from both Australia and New Zealand, and SFR has fielded inquiries from a German TV station, a British radio program and Domingo Espetacular of Brazil.
Freelance camera operator Shane Anthony was still on the scene for the FOX Network Monday morning after having driven down from Denver on Friday. He spent the first couple days staking out the main gate to the movie ranch driveway, where security guards checked credentials after investigators cleared out. Then, after he got a tip from another photographer that he could catch a shot of the mock Old West town from a vantage point on a hill farther away, he moved there. He was able to zoom in right on the church building where the incident took place.
“This has international interest for a couple of reasons: We live vicariously through celebrities when they succeed and we live vicariously through them when they hit bumps in the road,” Anthony tells SFR. “Baldwin, he’s as close to US/American royalty as we have in this country, so that put the British TV on the story...A lot of it is timing and what else is going on in the news cycle.”
Bonanza Creek’s film credits include Lonesome Dove and All the Pretty Horses, along with Wild Hogs and 3:10 to Yuma.Though event organizers have since switched venues, for years, visitors played dress-up and strolled the sets for the Buckaroo Ball to benefit local children’s charities.
About a half mile away, a team from People magazine’s television show was looking for the ranch and had stopped for a standup shot a short distance from where the road branches west off Highway 14. Stephanie Bauer, who works as a special contributor for the show, had been on her way to Texas when she got re-routed.
“I used to do a lot of Hollywood breaking news and now I do mostly true crime,” she says. “Since this happened—it’s sort of both.”
Bauer said the story was a tough one, however, because witnesses have been worried that being publicly identified could mean they don’t get future film industry work.
“People are afraid to talk,” she tells SFR. “I think it’s because it’s a criminal investigation and everyone on the crew wants to...just keep working.”
It appears a criminal investigation into the shooting is ongoing. Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigators executed a search warrant to collect firearms, clothing, film and digital devices from the scene to piece together whether someone should be charged.
Affidavits filed in Magistrate Court provide a picture of what happened before and after the shooting.
The warrants are based on accounts provided to sheriff’s Det. Joel Cano, including one from Souza. The director and another witness told Cano the day of the shooting began with Rust’s camera crew walking off the film over disagreements about their pay and housing.
Still, witnesses told Cano, everyone was getting along as the cast and crew prepared to rehearse a scene in which Baldwin drew out a pistol and pointed it toward a camera, according to one of the affidavits.
Assistant director Dave Halls allegedly handed the gun to Baldwin, the affidavits say. Halls could not be reached for comment.
A short time later, Baldwin fired, striking Hutchins and Souza. She died at University of New Mexico Hospital; Souza was treated and released in Santa Fe.
Crew members also told Cano that Baldwin had been “very careful” when handling firearms on set prior to the day of the shooting, according to the affidavit.
Among the unanswered questions, though, is what, exactly, was in the gun the well-known actor fired.
Search warrant returns obtained by SFR on Monday show that investigators recovered three black revolvers, 14 swabs of suspected blood, at least six boxes of “ammo” and nine “shell casing(s)” from in and around the church structure at the ranch.
Sheriff Adan Mendoza’s spokesman, Juan Rios, did not respond to questions from SFR about whether Baldwin fired a bullet or something else.
Investigators have a “projectile” they recovered from Souza’s shoulder and a shell casing, a source close to the investigation tells SFR. But they won’t be able to precisely identify the round until ballistics and forensics analyses have been completed. Local officials have asked the FBI to conduct those reviews. Mendoza and First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies have scheduled a news conference for 10 am Oct. 27.