Jenna RyuUSA TODAY
Two weeks ago, Alec Baldwin accidentally killed a young and beloved cinematographer named Halyna Hutchins.
Tragedy struck on the film set of “Rust” Oct. 21 when the actor discharged a prop gun in a shocking incident that resulted in Hutchins’ death and the injury of the movie’s director, Joel Souza. Baldwin was told the gun was “cold,” indicating that it didn’t contain ammunition, but a live bullet was later discovered.
Photos from the scene showed Baldwin visibly crying, and some were concerned for his well-being after a tense paparazzi interaction. Experts say Baldwin is also grappling his own trauma: the reality of inadvertently causing a death.
Social psychologist Maryann Gray empathizes with Baldwin. In 1977, she unintentionally hit an 8-year-old boy, who dashed in front of her car on a rural highway — an experience that left her full of grief, guilt, shame and anguish.
“I do have a lot of compassion for him,” Gray says of Baldwin. “If he’s like most people who unintentionally kill someone, he’s suffering with a variety of challenges, one of them is certainly trauma.”
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Original story:Alec Baldwin discharged prop gun containing a ‘live single round’ in fatal ‘Rust’ set incident
The ‘heavy burden’ that Alec Baldwin carries
Intentional or not, the loss of life is traumatic for anyone. But unintentional killing has distinguishing characteristics, including a moral component.
Gray recalls the difficulty she had overcoming her guilt.
“Even though nobody blamed me, I blamed myself for years, and I felt like there must be something terrible about me because I killed a child,” she says.
This reaction isn’t abnormal, according to trauma experts. Elaine Miller-Karas, co-founder of the Trauma Resource Institute, says most human beings aren’t wired to intentionally harm or kill others. So when it happens accidentally, our instinct is to feel guilt, shame and self-condemnation.
“It’s not an easy road, because somebody that was beloved is now dead because of something you did — not with intention— and that not only affects you in terms of taking a life, but also everyone around Halyna. Her kid. Her parents. Her husband,” she adds,
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Along with feelings of shock, Baldwin may also be experiencing moral injury, which Gray defines as “guilt when our behavior fails to live up to our moral expectations.” As a result, many unintentional killers often engage in self-destructive behaviors, like denying themselves happiness or punishing themselves.
“Even though this may have been something he never intended to do, as human beings we often say, ‘What if?’ ‘What if I was sick that day? What if I had pointed the gun at an inanimate object instead?’ We keep doing these what ifs to an extent that it can almost paralyze us.”
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There is a lack of resources for unintentional killers
For trauma survivors, support is a crucial part of recovery. But unintentional killers may avoid seeking help out of fear that their feelings are invalid, selfish or a superficial attempt to gain sympathy.
The reality is, all trauma is important.
“The particular kind of grief that comes with accidentally killing someone, especially someone you know, is something that has been minimally researched, so it’s an exceptionally confusing and lonely journey,” says Rebecca Ching, a psychotherapist and trauma-informed leadership coach.
Additionally, there are fewer resources when it comes to addressing the specific trauma of accidental killing, despite findings that 30,000 people in the U.S. unintentionally kill somebody each year.
Am I OK?:
This is why Gray founded the support group, “Accidental Impacts.” But she says her organization isn’t enough to address the “tsunami” of emotional and psychological needs of people who unintentionally kill another person.
“Probably the majority (of these unintentional killers) are struggling and anguished. But there are no therapeutic protocols,” she says. “Many therapists are extremely competent at treating trauma, but most of them have not encountered somebody who has been through this and may not have guidance for this specific type of tragedy.”
We can mourn Halyna Hutchins and still recognize Alec Baldwin’s suffering
It may be tempting for some to criticize Baldwin, but experts say this is an oversimplification of a complex incident.
“We have enough compassion in our hearts that we can not only mourn for Halyna, but also recognize the suffering and despair that Baldwin may well be experiencing,” Gray advises. “We can acknowledge great harm has been done and hold people accountable, yet we can also recognize he didn’t intend harm and that he may be suffering from psychological despair.”
Ching says everyone on set is likely traumatized from witnessing the unexpected death, but instead of pointing fingers and speculating who’s responsible, we should show empathy and compassion.
“We live in a culture that loves to critique for sport,” says Ching. “We want to have blame and have people pay, and we do need justice and accountability. But if we don’t have empathy and compassion along with it, we’re just going to continue piling on the ruthlessness we’re seeing in our culture today.”
“Compassion especially towards ourself and others is an essential catalyst to heal pain and transform the shame we feel when we experience tragedy.”
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