'Rust' director Joel Souza recalls on-set shooting during armorer's trial: 'Nothing made sense'

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed and Souza injured in the shooting.

March 1, 2024, 5:54 PM

"Rust" director Joel Souza recalled the "chaotic" scene and confusion after he and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins were shot on the set of "Rust" during the involuntary manslaughter trial of armorer Hannah Gutierrez.

"There was an incredibly loud bang that was not like the half and quarter loads you hear on the set," Souza said while testifying in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Friday. "This was deafening."

Actor Alec Baldwin was practicing a cross-draw in a church on the set of the Western movie in October 2021 when the gun fired a live round, striking Hutchins and Souza, who was standing behind her.

Souza told the court it felt like somebody had hit his shoulder with a baseball bat.

"I still didn't quite know what had happened. Nothing made sense," he said.

"Rust" director Joel Souza testifies during the involuntary manslaughter trial of Hannah Gutierrez in Santa Fe, New Mexico, March 1, 2024.
Pool via ABC News

He recalled seeing crew members helping Hutchins and didn't realize she had been wounded at first.

"I remember initially thinking she had been startled by it," he said. "Then I saw the blood on her back."

Souza described the scene as "very chaotic" and that there was "a lot of panic." He recalled Gutierrez looking "distraught" and apologizing to him after the shooting. He was transported to a hospital, where he was informed he was likely struck by a live round. He said he was in disbelief.

"I kept insisting, it's just not possible it's a live round. It just can't," he said.

Hutchins, 42, was transported via helicopter to a hospital in critical condition and died that day.

Souza spoke admirably of Hutchins and told the court he first took note of the cinematographer's work in the trailer for the film "Archenemy."

"I was impressed visually," he said. "It fit my style."

He said he considered several cinematographers for "Rust" but told producers he wanted to hire Hutchins for the film.

"She was very keen to do a Western, which I think all filmmakers are, because it's just really interesting visually," he said.

Hannah Gutierrez appears in court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, during her involuntary manslaughter trial, March 1, 2024.
Pool via ABC News

Souza's testimony comes a day after David Halls, the film's safety coordinator, took the stand for the state. Halls had conducted the safety check on the Colt .45 revolver and testified that he did not see all the rounds in the gun before it was handed to Baldwin.

Halls was charged with negligent use of a deadly weapon and sentenced in March 2023 to six months of unsupervised probation as part of a plea deal.

Asked by prosecutors on Thursday why he accepted that plea deal, he responded, "I was negligent in checking the gun properly."

Gutierrez had shown Halls the revolver during the safety check but was not in the church at the time of the shooting. During an interview with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office hours afterward, she said she was outside the church due to COVID-19 restrictions. Halls testified Thursday that he was unaware at the time that she was not inside the church and did not tell her to leave.

Souza testified Friday that he did not know of any COVID-19 protocol on set that would have required her to leave the church.

Gutierrez, 26, was charged with involuntary manslaughter last year in Hutchins' death following a lengthy investigation. She was subsequently charged with tampering with evidence. Prosecutors allege she handed off a small bag of cocaine after her interview with law enforcement following the shooting.

She has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Prosecutors have claimed that the armorer did not always adhere to "essential" safety procedures on set and unwittingly brought several live bullets onto the set, including the one that struck Hutchins.

Halls testified he believed that "Rust" was a relatively safe set and did not have any concerns about Gutierrez as an armorer. Several crew member voiced their concerns about her work on Friday.

Mamie Mitchell, the script supervisor, said she found her to be inexperienced and unprofessional. She said she was present for two negligent discharges that had occurred in one day on the set, which she called "frightening."

"Guns do not just go off on a film set," she told the court.

Cherlyn Schaefer, the sole medic on the set the day of the shooting, testified that she found that Gutierrez did not secure weapons in a way she was accustomed to on prior film sets involving armorers.

Both women are involved in ongoing civil litigation against the production over the shooting. When asked by the defense if they believed their testimony would help with their civil cases, both said no.

"I'm not thinking about that case -- I’m thinking about the fact that had our armorer or first AD done their jobs, we would not be here," Schaefer said. "A woman would not be dead, a mother would not be gone."

The trial is scheduled to resume next week with the state continuing to present evidence.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles said during opening statements last week that the production and state have made Gutierrez a "scapegoat" in the tragic shooting.

He has denied that she brought the live bullets on set and has argued that the production created a "chaotic scene" by giving Gutierrez props duties that took away from her job as lead armorer.

The defense has also argued there is no proof that cocaine was in the bag and that she was charged with the offense "in an effort to cause unfair prejudice" to the defendant during the trial.

Baldwin, who starred in and was a producer of the film, has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins' death. He has pleaded not guilty.

His trial is scheduled to start in July.

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