“Rust” Director Recounts On-Set Shooting

Joel Souza tells jurors Hannah Gutierrez-Reed apologized to him directly following the incident that wounded him and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins

Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed apologized to director Joel Souza just after the gunshot that struck him and killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, Souza told jurors in the First Judicial District Court.

The film’s director recounted the day of the shooting—Oct. 21, 2021—and said he recalled hearing “a loud pop” that was “deafening” in the church following a lunch break as the crew set up a take. Immediately after the noise, he said he felt as if someone “had taken a baseball bat” to his shoulder.

“I remember stumbling back, and I fell to my knees…and I distinctly remember Halyna being lowered to the ground, and I still didn’t quite know what had happened,” Souza testified. “Nothing made sense. I remember initially thinking she had been startled by it, but then I saw the blood on her back.”

A “very chaotic” scene commenced afterwards as other crew began tending to the two, he said. When Special Prosecutor Kari Morrissey asked Souza if he recalled any interaction with Gutierrez-Reed, he said he looked up at one point and saw her standing there.

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Joel,” he told jurors the armorer said to him.

Prosecutors contend that Gutierrez-Reed, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering, was negligent in her duty to ensure prop guns and ammunition used on set were safe. If convicted, Gutierrez-Reed could receive up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. Prosecutors added the evidence tampering charge—which could bring her sentence up to as many as three years—because another person from the movie production claims the armorer handed off suspected narcotics before investigators questioned her. So far, no court testimony has pertained to this charge aside from text messages entered into evidence by a forensic examiner.

Souza told jurors he did not know whether Gutierrez-Reed was inside the church at the time the gun went off, but expected so: “The armorer would be where the gun is.” He also didn’t recall seeing her enter the church with the .45-caliber revolver for actor Alec Baldwin, he added.

During cross examination, defense attorney Jason Bowles questioned why Souza or other members of the Rust cast and crew wouldn’t look around to see if the armorer was there and call her if not. The director cited “an enormous amount going on” during the set up, including people moving lights and cameras and special effects people rigging items.

“I’m trying to focus on what I can focus on at that point,” he explained.

Souza, alongside three other Rust crew members and a hotel worker, testified during Friday’s hearing. Cherlyn Schaefer, another person who worked on the set as an EMT, also commented on Hutchins’ shooting.

Schaefer told jurors she was sitting outside the church waiting for the call to start filming when she heard “the sound of a gun.” At that point, she looked to the person standing beside her and asked if the team was rehearsing or shooting blanks that contain small amounts of gunpowder.

“Normally you would hear the armorer say quarter load half load or full load and none of that was said,” Schaefer said. “I grabbed my normal bag and ran to the church and I heard ‘medic emergency’ over the radio.”

She then broke into tears as she detailed entering the church. When she overheard another crew member ask Hutchins if she could feel her legs, she said the cinematographer indicated she could feel one but not the other. Schaefer testified she cut up Hutchins’ jacket and located a bullet hole and began covering it with gauze. Because Souza also screamed out in pain, she told jurors she knew it was a “through and through” and began looking for the second bullet hole on Hutchins’ body. The cinematographer struggled as people tried to give her treatment and oxygen, she said.

“I could see her blood dripping from her back onto the church floor. She was leaning kind of on a pew,” Schaefer said. “I called out on the radio to call 911. We would need an ambulance.”

The EMT ended up calling for two ambulances and a helicopter due to Hutchins’ blood loss. “She was going to need more than we could provide,” Schaefer said. “She needed to go to the trauma center in Albuquerque.”

During cross examination, defense attorneys cited a lawsuit Schaefer filed against Rust Movie Productions, LLC; Gutierrez-Reed; and other Rust affiliates that seeks monetary damages for extreme emotional distress. Schaefer testified she already received a civil settlement from props master Sarah Zachry, also named in the suit. When asked if the EMT believed her testimony would help her case against the defendant, she replied: “I’m not thinking about that case.”

“I’m thinking about the fact that if our armorer or our first assistant director did their job, we would not be here,” Schaefer said. “A woman would not be dead. A mother would not be gone.”

During the redirect, when Morrissey asked why the Rust EMT decided to file a lawsuit, she said it was because she “wanted change” in the film industry.

“I did not want something like this to be able to happen again to anyone else, their family or to the crew that saw them as family,” Schaefer said, noting the crew of roughly 75 was minimal compared to her normal sets of no less than 300. “Being the only medic there for two people and knowing my resources were not close enough to help in any significant way is what I wanted to change.”

Zachry testified just before Souza, with her time on the witness stand spanning from Thursday afternoon to Friday next morning. The props master entered into a cooperation agreement with prosecutors that gave her immunity from criminal charges under the terms that she would tell the truth during her testimony against Gutierrez-Reed.

During her time on the stand, Zachry told jurors that immediately following the shooting, she unloaded ammunition from two prop guns and threw it away.

“I believe I threw them away in a state of shock and panic,” she said. “I think it was a reactive decision.”

Zachry also called PDQ Arm and Prop owner Seth Kenney—who supplied weapons and ammunition on the set of Rust—for “30 seconds to a minute” after the shooting. Bowles asked if Kenney, whom she worked for at the time, had instructed her to discard the ammunition, which she denied.

When the defense attorney questioned why she did not tell anyone on the set about discarding the bullets, she replied: “They weren’t the rounds in question, so they didn’t matter.”

Though First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe-Sommer previously said the trial would not last more than two weeks, today she told a juror who asked that she “can’t give that reassurance.” While attorneys anticipate closing arguments by March 7, jury deliberation may go past that date, Marlowe Sommer said. The trial will continue Monday at 8:30 am.

Baldwin, the star and a producer of Rust, also faces an involuntary manslaughter charge. His trial is set to begin July 10.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.