Police detectives pulled up to Baldwin’s father’s house a few hours later. The police had been at the scene of the shooting, where Joseph Smith was now confirmed dead, since shortly after shots were exchanged. So they already had a pretty clear picture of what had occurred.
When police arrived at the strip mall parking lot approximately 12 minutes after the shooting, Joseph Smith’s girlfriend was already there, according to Spencer. Officers discovered that she had picked up Joseph Smith’s firearm and placed it on the driver’s seat of her vehicle.
“I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt,” Baldwin said. “Maybe she saw that he had a gun and that that was dangerous, and she was trying to secure the weapon so that nobody picked the gun up while police were on their way. I don’t know.”
The girlfriend turned the firearm over to police, cooperated with the investigation and was not charged with any crimes.
There’s no telling what might have happened if Baldwin and Nonaka had stayed in the strip mall’s parking lot and encountered a returning Kevin Smith or the girlfriend — most likely with heightened emotions upon learning her boyfriend had died and that the man who killed him was still there — before police got to the scene. It’s certainly a situation Baldwin is happy he avoided.
“The right thing to do, which I have no regrets for, is leave the scene of the shooting,” Baldwin said. “I’ve been shamed for that by lots and lots of people: ‘Why’d you leave if you didn’t do anything wrong?’ Well, I left because I didn’t want to get in another f—ing gunfight.”
Kevin Smith was arrested within days and confirmed to detectives that Baldwin had shot in self-defense, according to a Review-Journal story that cites police reports. He informed police that he and his brother did not know Nonaka or Baldwin.
In the Clear: Self-Defense Investigation Concludes
In early May — less than two weeks following the shooting — Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson cleared Baldwin of any wrongdoing. Wolfson told the Review-Journal that it was “a clear case of self-defense.” Baldwin’s pistol, which was seized the night of the shooting, was still in police custody at the time of publication.
Kevin Smith was charged with six felonies: two counts of assault with a deadly weapon, two counts of attempted murder with use of a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to commit murder. At the time of publication, his court case had not concluded.
It was Saturday, May 2, 2020 — only 10 days after the incident and just hours after Baldwin had been officially cleared of any wrongdoing — and Baldwin couldn’t hold it in any longer.
As he had patiently waited for the investigation to run its course and for his name to be officially cleared, speculation and opinions about the incident ran rampant online. There were people claiming that some of the details didn’t add up — despite the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department’s definitive conclusions on the matter — and others were spreading malicious rumors about their own theories regarding what led up to the shooting.
In Nevada, if the force used in a self-defense incident is deemed justified under the laws of the state, the person who defended himself or herself cannot be sued in civil court over the matter. So, with Wolfson’s final say on the incident handed down, Baldwin was cleared not only from a criminal standpoint but also from a civil liability standpoint. It was finally time for him to speak his mind.
When Baldwin opened Instagram to make his first public comments about the incident, the natural optimist desperately wanted to spin things positive, to create some form of optimism from an extremely challenging experience in his life.
“What good is an unfair advantage if you picked an unfair fight?” Baldwin typed in a message penned to his attacker. “You may have showed me your worst qualities, your darker moments, but I know better. There are good qualities in everyone, and I have clearly seen them in you. You had passion, you had love, you were loyal, and you were a good father. Despite your actions toward me, I will not ignore these good qualities in you. You did the best you could in life, you did what you thought you needed to do. For that, you have my respect.”
Baldwin then addressed his fans and those who follow his social media pages.
“If I can find the good in someone that tried to kill me and kill someone I love, then you can find the good in someone too,” Baldwin wrote. “Spread kindness. Spread love. Care for each other. Tell someone you love them. Tell them today. Tomorrow is not guaranteed.”
He finished the note with a message to the family of Joseph Smith.
“To whom it may concern, I am deeply sorry for your loss,” Baldwin wrote. “Whether it be months or years, take your time, and when you are ready, if it helps you heal, I will be here. Thank you for reading. Praying for you. Rest in Peace, Joey.”
Social Media’s Response
The responses were overwhelmingly supportive. Thousands of people offered their condolences to Baldwin and Nonaka for having to experience the traumatic events and expressed their relief that the couple survived the encounter.
“I think it was important for me and for his [Joseph Smith’s] family to see that I don’t hold any grudges and I forgive him,” Baldwin said. “I’m not one to judge, and I don’t know what he’s gone through for him to think that he would want to do whatever he was intending on doing that night. I think, additionally, making that public, if I could forgive somebody that just tried to put a bullet in my girlfriend’s head and kill me, if I can do that in a couple days, I think that’s something that helped a lot of people understand that life is too short to hold grudges.”
Some were puzzled by Baldwin’s message though, including a handful who were left with the impression, after reading his words, that Baldwin must have known Joseph Smith personally before the attack. Baldwin asserts that he never met Joseph or Kevin Smith before the incident. He says the “good qualities” he referred to in the message are all things he learned about his attacker in the days and weeks following the attack.
While Baldwin estimates that more than 90 percent of the comments and direct messages he’s received since that night have been supportive, it’s been difficult for him to tune out the messages from those attempting to tarnish his reputation.
“They’re still hurtful,” Baldwin reflected. “I still bleed just like everybody else.”
Even the support has felt overwhelming at times.
“I had no idea so many people loved me so much,” Baldwin said. “I had no idea so many people even liked me. So to find out, all of a sudden, that there’s a huge volume of people that love me with a great intensity when I didn’t know that before, that’s been very emotional for me as well.”
Baldwin wasn’t sure if any of Joseph Smith’s family members or friends would take him up on the offer to talk, but he felt it was very important to at least grant them the opportunity. Three people connected to Joseph Smith have reached out to Baldwin since the post, including a cousin.
“In a weird way, I’ve developed a friendship with her,” Baldwin said. “I expressed that I’m praying for her and that I’m sorry she’s having to experience this, and it turned into a very long conversation. She said it was helping her that she understood more about me. The more she understood about the things that I like to do and my profession and my family, the more it helped her.”
It’s helped Baldwin too.
“I’ve got a lot of intelligence about this person that put our lives in jeopardy,” Baldwin said. “I learned a little bit more about him that I would have never known, and it’s just been nice of her to share that with me. She’s just been really, really sweet and awesome, and she’s even stood up for me with these people starting rumors. She even stood up for me in a public social media platform, which was really, really awesome of her.”
Baldwin has been taking measures to return to normalcy in his regular life too.
“It’s been very difficult for me,” Baldwin admitted. “As well as going through this, I’m going through stuff in my personal life with just some family trouble that has been very, very difficult for me. This event has obviously tripled what I was already dealing with, and this is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to deal with because it’s not like I was in a good spot when this happened. I haven’t been in a good spot for a few months, and I’m trying to get back to base, which could take a lot of work.”
Above all else, he’s giving love to his son and daughter and both offering support to and receiving support from Nonaka. Baldwin and Nonaka are also working through the PTSD symptoms they’ve experienced as a result of the incident. For Baldwin, the effects have primarily manifested themselves through hyper-vigilance.
“I could hear and see and understand things a lot quicker — even regular things,” Baldwin explained. “I’m sitting in my car right now. I know everything that’s in the rearview mirror 100 yards back, everything that’s in front of me. I know that all the windows on all these residences are closed; nobody’s peeking out of them. I just notice a lot more, but it’s slowly going away, little by little every week.”
The one place where Baldwin and Nonaka both feel at home and fully at peace is on the gun range.
“I’ve gotten a lot faster; I’ve gotten a lot better with accuracy,” Baldwin said of their recent defensive pistol training. “Tori is getting a lot faster on the draw and on transitions. She works transitions from 5, 7, 15 yards, three different targets. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. She’s way faster in transitions than I am.”
The self-defense incident is now months in the past, but Baldwin still relives it every day. The early morning hours of April 22, 2020, have played through his mind countless times, and there’s one overriding feeling that he just can’t shake: He was supposed to be there.
“So, of all the people that he [Joseph Smith] could’ve possibly attacked that night, the fact that it was me just goes to show that — the way I see it is — that had to happen for a reason,” Baldwin said. “I wish it didn’t have to happen. I wish I didn’t have to be there. But if it did have to happen, I’m glad it was somebody with the level of proficiency that I possess.”
The attacker tried to pick an unfair fight that night, and Baldwin made sure he got one.