Witnesses said actor Alec Baldwin was “practicing” with a gun when it went off before filming started on the set of “Rust” in New Mexico, according to new information released Sunday in search warrants.
The new information includes previously unreported statements from director Joel Souza and cameraman Reid Russell.
Souza said Baldwin had been practicing Thursday when the gun went off, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, and injuring director Joel Souza, 48, according to the latest warrant information.
The cast and crew had taken a lunch break, and when they returned, Souza told authorities, he wasn’t sure if the firearm to be used by Baldwin had been checked anew for safety.
“Joel advised they returned back to the set after lunch, although he is not sure if the firearm was checked again,” the warrant states. “Joel stated they had Alec sitting in a pew in a church building setting, and he was practicing a cross draw. Joel said he was looking over the shoulder of Halayna, when he heard what sounded like a whip and then loud pop.”
The director said he vaguely remembers Hutchins’ reaction. She was “complaining about her stomach and grabbing her midsection,” according to the warrant.
“Joel also said Halayna began to stumble backwards and she was assisted to the ground,” it said. “Joel explained that he was bleeding from his shoulder and he could see blood on Halayna.”
Camera operator Russell told authorities none of this was captured on camera because the cast and crew were preparing for the scene. He also said he was unsure if the gun had been checked because he had left the area for five minutes for a break.
“Reid said Alec had been very careful, and brought up an instance when a scene was being filmed earlier,” the warrant states. “Reid said Alec had made sure it was safe and that a child wasn’t near him when they were discharging a firearm during that scene.”
The production team behind the film also spoke out Sunday in a letter to cast and crew obtained by NBC News. The team members said production on the western would be halted at least through the investigation by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, which is trying to determine how a gun with a lethal amount of ammunition got into Baldwin’s hands.
The producers urged those who worked on the film before Thursday’s shooting to stick together.
“Our hearts are with all of you, as we all go through this tragic time and mourn the loss of our colleague and dear friend, Halyna Hutchins,” they said. “We are family and we must stand beside each other as families do in difficult times.
“We remain in close touch with Halyna’s family and commend the strength they show in the face of unspeakable tragedy. It is beyond an inspiration.”
The sheriff’s office said it would hold a news conference Wednesday to discuss the investigation.
While the director was well enough to give a statement, the production company on Sunday let cast and crew know he was getting better.
“Joel Souza is recovering, and we are supporting him however we can knowing just how difficult his journey is,” Rust Movies Production, LLC, said in a letter to its cast and crew. It was not signed by any individuals.
The producers said that although there have been leaks from insiders, members of the cast and crew were not encouraged to speak with reporters.
“As the investigation continues, we cannot respond to the comments that have been making their way into the media, on social media and elsewhere,” the company said.
“We are sorry to hear that so many of you are receiving unsolicited contacts from the media while all of us need time and space to grieve and heal. You don’t need to engage, but if you do, just ask the journalists to respect your privacy. It should help.”
The producers said they have been cooperating with investigators, and they offered counseling to staff.
“We are conducting an internal review of safety protocols,” they said in the letter. “As with any ongoing investigation, we are limited in our ability to say anything further publicly or privately, and ask for your patience in that regards.”
Baldwin fired the gun after an assistant director yelled, “Cold gun,” which indicates a weapon used for filming is generally safe to fire and is loaded with nonlethal ammunition intended for production, according to previous search warrant information.
Sources familiar with the situation told NBC News the gun in question had misfired previously. And a prop maker who worked with assistant director Dave Halls said he had previously allowed an unsafe working environment.
“He did not maintain a safe working environment,” Maggie Goll said in a statement. “Sets were almost always allowed to become increasingly claustrophobic, no established fire lanes, exits blocked. … Safety meetings were nonexistent.”
Halls did not respond to requests for comment.
Andrew Blankstein is an investigative reporter for NBC News. He covers the Western United States, specializing in crime, courts and homeland security.
Diana Dasrath is entertainment producer and senior reporter for NBC News covering all platforms.