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Peer of 'Rust' gun handler expresses shock: 'I'm surprised any of this happened on her watch'

·7 min read
Actor Amy Rauch looks on during a vigil held to honor cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at Albuquerque Civic Plaza
Actor Amy Rauch looks on during a vigil held to honor cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Saturday night in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Hutchins was killed on the set of "Rust" by a prop gun. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

As an armorer on film sets, Hannah Gutierrez Reed often encountered cast and crew members who were scared of guns. But the part of her work she most relished was helping to shift that narrative, showing the world that "guns are awesome."

"I think the best part about my job is just showing people who are normally kind of freaked out by guns how safe they can be and how they're not really problematic unless put in the wrong hands," Reed said in a podcast interview in September.

Just a month later, her words have become haunting. On Thursday, cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot by actor Alec Baldwin on the set of "Rust" after the actor was handed a prop gun that had reportedly been prepared by Reed. On the set of the New Mexico western, Reed was responsible for overseeing all weapons — ensuring that they were handled only by designated individuals, checking that they were loaded at the appropriate time with the correct projectiles and teaching actors how to safely interact with them.

At 24, Reed did not have much experience doing this. "Rust" was only her second film as lead armorer — and as details of the shooting emerge, many in the film industry have questioned her hiring; the shooting came just hours after the crew walked off the set, citing safety complaints and misfires.

On that day, according to the Santa Fe County County Sheriff’s Office search warrant affidavit obtained by the Associated Press, Reed prepared the three prop guns that were to be used in a scene by Baldwin. Assistant director Dave Halls grabbed one of those guns and handed it to Baldwin before the accident occurred, the affidavit said.

Calls to Reed and other "Rust" crew members — including the property master who oversaw her work, Sarah Zachry — have not been returned. But the prop master who supervised Reed on her first job as an armorer in August came to her defense on Saturday, even though he acknowledged that he was at first skeptical of her ability.

Though Reed is the daughter of a veteran armorer respected throughout the film industry, "The Old Way" — a Nicolas Cage western that was shot over four weeks in Montana in August — included so many gunfights that prop master Jeffrey W. Crow insisted producers hire a person to specifically focus on armory.

"I told them there was no way any person could do props and armory on a gunfighter movie safely because there were too many guns," recalled Crow, who supervised Reed on "The Old Way." "All the armorers I know and tried to bring in were working already, so I left it up to producers. I had never heard about Hannah until I was informed she would be my armorer, but my skepticism of her initially, about her lack of experience, was allayed after I’d worked with her."

Crow said he was still "stymied" by the fact that Reed could have played a role in the fatal shooting on the New Mexico set of "Rust." The interview with Crow was conducted before a Daily Beast story was published in which two anonymous sources said there had been worrisome gun safety issues on the set of "The Old Way." According to the report, Reed handed a gun to child actress Ryan Kiera Armstrong without properly checking the weapon first. Armstrong's parents did not return calls from The Times.

Candles are placed around a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil
Candles surround a photo of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil held in her honor at Albuquerque Civic Plaza on October 23, 2021 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

Crow insisted that Reed was scrupulous.

"Working with Hannah, I’m surprised that any of this happened under her watch," said Crow. "I thought she was an exceptionally young, up-and-coming, very eager and talented armorer. She was without a lot of experience, but coming from her family lineage, I thought she was exceptional, professional, and I thought she had — I still think she has — many years of an amazing career ahead of her."

Reed grew up on Hollywood sets, often tagging along with her father, a former Marine who served as Brad Pitt's gun coach on "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" and served as a quick draw expert on "Django Unchained." She has said that her favorite childhood memory with her dad was visiting the set of the 2007 film "3:10 to Yuma" when she was around 10.

"He took me out of fifth-grade classes for two weeks and just got to run around set," Reed recalled in September on the podcast "Voices of the West." "It just made me instantly be, like, 'I want to do movies when I'm older.' I used to hold up craft [services] with little plastic guns and everything and be, like, 'Give me your pistachios!'"

Her father took her "from being completely green and taught me everything," she continued, noting that he bought her a Colt Peacemaker gun to use in addition to the Walther P22 she already owned.

In 1959, the Petaluma Argus-Courier named then 15-year-old Thell Reed — who grew up in Downey — as one of the world's fastest in guns. The claim came after he drew and fired a .38 pistol in 8/100 of a second, meaning he "could draw and kill a Billy the Kid while he started a blink," the story said. Thell went on to become the bodyguard and "drinking buddy" of Evel Knievel, The Times said 1982. He also worked as a trick shooter on a Gene Autry road show and once made $50,000 at a one-on-one Texas shootout.

Despite her experience with her father, Hannah Gutierrez Reed admitted she was so anxious about being head armorer on "The Old Way" that she "almost didn't take the job because I wasn't sure if I was ready." Loading blanks into guns was "the scariest thing" to her, she said in the podcast interview, until her father helped to train her.

On set, she said, she was often judged for her age and gender. Many actors would walk into the prop department and look at Crow instead of her, expecting he was the armorer, she said: "I'd be, like, 'Don't look at him. Look at me.'"

"I don’t do anything unless I'm the best at it, really," Reed said on the podcast, adding that she rides a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster. "I’m pretty competitive. I hope to grow to the point where I’m pretty much just an untouchable person that has all the knowledge of everything."

Reed studied cinematography and film production at Northern Arizona University, graduating in 2020, according to her LinkedIn profile. During college, she worked as a videographer for an electronic music company and made documentary films for the city of Flagstaff, Ariz.

After "The Old Way," she was scheduled to work on a new Cage movie — "Butcher's Crossing" — as assistant armorer, but the position was cut, said Crow.

Though he declined to speculate on what could have occurred on the set of "Rust," Crow said he hoped Reed would eventually be exonerated.

"This is not a typical role for a woman — especially a young woman," he said. "I had a lot of faith in her, and I still do. I'm gonna be surprised if there was anything she was ultimately responsible for in all this, just seeing how she acted in the past. This is all such a surprise."

Times researcher Cary Schneider contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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