Alec Baldwin has described how his "heart is broken" after he accidentally shot dead a female cinematographer with a prop gun on the set of his new film.
A distraught Baldwin said in a statement on Friday that there are "no words to convey his sadness" over the death of colleague Halyna Hutchins while they were filming Rust.
Moving photographs taken in the hours after the incident showed Baldwin, a father-of-seven, bent double and seemingly distraught outside the local sheriff's office.
The actor said he was doing all he could to support the family of the 42-year-old mother-of-one, who was killed in the tragic accident near Santa Fe, New Mexico on Thursday afternoon.
Baldwin, 63, paid tribute to “a wife, mother and deeply admired colleague of ours”. He added: "My heart is broken for her husband, their son, and all who knew and loved Halyna."
A shocked Hollywood is mourning the loss of the admired cinematographer whose ambitions took her from her native Ukraine to working with the biggest stars of Los Angeles.
However, many in the film industry were already demanding answers as to how the accident was allowed to happen during what is supposed to be a highly controlled film set.
It is believed Baldwin fired a single live round from a prop gun that somehow struck both Ms Hutchins and the movie’s director, 48-year-old Joel Souza, who was lightly wounded. Baldwin is reported to have repeatedly asked why he had been given what is known as a "hot gun".
The Departed star said he was fully cooperating with police to investigate "how this tragedy occurred". He gave a tearful interview to officers in Santa Fe, but no charges have been filed. A Santa Fe County Sheriff's spokesman said a search warrant had been issued for the ranch, and searches would be carried out over the weekend.
One witness told Hollywood gossip site Showbiz 411 that the actor, known for his roles in TV show 30 Rock and his impression of former President Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, immediately began asking why he was handed a hot gun – which typically means a gun loaded with real ammunition.
"In all my years, I've never been handed a hot gun," the actor allegedly kept saying.
In a 911 emergency call, published by the website TMZ and yet to be independently verified, a woman who identified herself as a script supervisor said: “We have two people accidentally shot on a movie set by a prop gun. We need help immediately. We need some help. Our director and a camerawoman have been shot.”
The dispatcher asked if the gun was loaded with a real bullet. The script supervisor said: “I cannot tell you that. We have two injuries from a movie gun. Shot. I was sitting, we were rehearsing, and it went off and I ran out. We all ran out. They were doubled over…the camerawoman and the director.”
A man who took over on the call from the script supervisor said, at that stage, the two people shot were still “alert” and each had one wound.
Showbiz 411 has an eyewitness claiming that one “bullet” went straight through Ms Hutchins before hitting Mr Souza’s clavicle. Prop masters union IATSE 44 told members on Thursday night in an email that a "single live round" was fired.
Friends and colleagues of Ms Hutchins wanted to know how the accident was allowed to happen.
"I just cannot believe what I just read. How is this even possible?!?!" Vera Sawalha, a make-up artist who has worked with Ms Hutchins, said. "Halyna Hutchins was one of the most talented women I've ever had the honor of working with. So many before her have died in this very careless and preventable way. I am in shock."
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: “Obviously, it is a tragedy and loss of life. Our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”
In a statement to the Deadline website Rust Movie Productions LLC said it was conducting an internal review.
It said: “The safety of our cast and crew is the top priority of Rust Productions and everyone associated with the company.
“Though we were not made aware of any official complaints concerning weapon or prop safety on set, we will be conducting an internal review of our procedures while production is shut down.”
The statement added: “We will continue to cooperate with the Santa Fe authorities in their investigation and offer mental health services to the cast and crew during this tragic time.”
Ms Hutchins' death, which comes in the wake of discussions about crew safety, also prompted tweets from the industry about the need to ensure safe working practices on set.
IA Stories, an Instagram account that posts anonymous stories of crew mistreatment and endangerment, wrote: "A full investigation into the incident absolutely needs to be done. All crew should be safe doing our jobs."
Gun safety protocol on sets in the US has dramatically improved since an on-set accident in 1993 which left Brandon Lee, son of the late martial-arts star Bruce Lee, dead after he was hit by a bullet left in a prop gun.
However, experts say one of the riskiest positions to be in is operating the camera – noting that the person would be in the line of fire in gripping scenes where someone appears to point a gun at the audience.
Richard Howell, of prop providers Foxtrot Production Ltd, who has personally overseen firearm scenes with Sir Ben Kingsley, told the Telegraph: "It is absolutely beyond me, I can’t think how that would actually happen.
"Armourers (in charge of the firearms used in a theatre production) should have nothing other than blank rounds. You read the script, the armourers understands the scene, the actor does, it will be rehearsed."
James Cullen Bressack, a Hollywood writer and director, tweeted after the incident: “I will never use anything but airsoft and rubber guns on my movies ever again.”
Rust Movie Productions halted work on the film indefinitely. The company said: "The entire cast and crew has been absolutely devastated by today's tragedy and we send our deepest condolences to Halyna's family and loved ones. We will be providing counselling services to everyone connected to the film as we work to process this awful event."
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