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'Rust' director Joel Souza describes being injured in Alec Baldwin shooting: 'Nothing made sense'

Meg James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

"Rust" director Joel Souza, who was injured when Alec Baldwin fired a prop gun, said he couldn't wrap his head around what had transpired on the New Mexico film set — even after being rushed to a hospital.

"I knew something got me," Souza testified Friday in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtroom on the seventh day of testimony in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Hannah Gutierrez. The 26-year-old Arizona woman could spend up to three years in prison if convicted of felony charges filed against her related to the on-set death of Halyna Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021.

Friday marked the first time Souza has publicly described details of the tragic accident that claimed the life of up-and-coming cinematographer Hutchins. She had impressive credentials and had sought the job on "Rust" because she wanted to work on a western.

In disbelief that afternoon, Souza recalled arguing with medical personnel at the Santa Fe hospital where he was taken by ambulance. He said he insisted that his injury could not have been caused by an actual bullet.

Hollywood safety protocols forbid having actual ammunition on a movie set.

"I just kept saying: 'You don't understand,'" Souza testified before the 12-member jury and four alternate jurors. "This was a movie and that's not possible. And they kept saying: 'No, no, no. It is (an actual bullet).' They eventually grew tired of my protesting because they showed me the X-ray of my back and there was a very large bullet in it."

 

Moments before the shooting, Souza entered the wooden church on the movie set at Bonanza Creek Ranch and moved in behind Hutchins, who had been discussing Baldwin's next scene. The actor was sitting in a pew, in full costume, facing the door. Souza testified that he didn't know who had brought the gun in the church or who handed it to Baldwin.

"I went in to look to see what was going on with the camera angle," Souza said. "What I wanted to do was get behind Halyna to try to sneak a look over her ... to see what (the camera view) was looking like, but I never even got to look at that."

That's when the gun went off.

"There was an incredibly loud bang," Souza said. "This was deafening. It felt like somebody had taken a baseball bat to my shoulder. I remember that distinctly, and sort of stumbling back and shouting. I don't remember exactly what I said."

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