Former NFL player Phillip Adams kills 5, then himself in South Carolina shooting
The gunman who killed five people in South Carolina was former NFL player Phillip Adams, who killed himself early Thursday, according to a source who was briefed on the investigation.
ROCK HILL, S.C. — Former NFL player Phillip Adams fatally shot five people including a prominent doctor, his wife and their two grandchildren before later killing himself, authorities said Thursday.
York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson told a news conference that investigators had not yet determined a motive in the mass shooting Wednesday.
“There’s nothing right now that makes sense to any of us,” Tolson told a news conference.
Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70, and his wife, Barbara, 69, were pronounced dead at the scene Wednesday along with grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5, the York County coroner’s office said.
A man who had been working at the Lesslie home, James Lewis, 38, from Gaston, was found shot to death outside, and a sixth person, who was not identified, was hospitalized with “serious gunshot wounds,” authorities said.
Tolson said evidence left at the scene of the shooting led them to Adams as a suspect. He said they went to Adams’ parents’ home, evacuated them and then tried to talk Adams out of the house. Eventually, they found him dead of a single gunshot wound to the head in a bedroom, he said.
Tolson said both a .45-caliber and 9mm weapon were used in Wednesday’s shooting.
A person briefed on the investigation told The Associated Press earlier Thursday that Adams had been treated by Lesslie, who lived near his parents’ home in Rock Hill. Adams killed himself after midnight with a .45-caliber weapon, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.
However, Tolson would not confirm that Adams had been the doctor’s patient.
Adams, 33, played in 78 NFL games over five seasons for six teams. He joined the 49ers in 2010 as a seventh-round draft pick out of South Carolina State, and though he rarely started, he went on to play for New England, Seattle, Oakland and the New York Jets before finishing his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015.
As a rookie late in the 2010 season, Adams suffered a severe ankle injury that required surgery that included several screws being inserted into his leg. He never played for the 49ers again, getting released just before the 2011 season began. Later, with the Raiders, he had two concussions over three games in 2012.
Whether he suffered long-lasting concussion-related injuries wasn’t immediately clear. Adams would not have been eligible for testing as part of a broad settlement between the league and its former players over such injuries, because he hadn’t retired by 2014.
Adams’ father told a Charlotte television station that he blamed football for problems his son had, and which might have led him to commit Wednesday’s violence.
“I can say he’s a good kid — he was a good kid, and I think the football messed him up,” Alonzo Adams told WCNC-TV. “He didn’t talk much and he didn’t bother nobody.”
Deputies were called around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday to the Lesslies’ home, which is not visible from the road. They evacuated the neighbors as they spent hours searching for a suspect with police dogs.
Allison Hope, who lives across from Adams’ parents’ modest one-story brick home, about a mile from the Lesslies, said police allowed her to return home around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Moments later, a vehicle pulled into the Adams’ driveway and law enforcement quickly surrounded the property.
She said they spent hours negotiating with Phillip Adams, using a loudspeaker and sending in a robot to scan the house. She said authorities repeatedly asked Adams to come out, and promised to get his disabled mother out safely, before Adams shot himself.
“This is something I can’t grasp yet. I can’t put it all together and I’m trying to, and I witnessed it,” Hope said. “I feel bad for him because if it was mental or something going on in his life or whatever, you know, he needed help, and that’s the sad part.”
Adams often isolated himself, even as a player, his agent, Scott Casterline, told the AP. Casterline said he spoke regularly with Adams’ father, who left him a voicemail Wednesday morning.
“He was part of my family. I loved him. He’s a great kid, a great guy. This is so unlike him. He had to not be in his right mind, obviously,” Casterline said.
“All of us who knew Phillip are shaking our heads. He struggled away from the game. I tried to get him to come to Texas. I was going to find him a job, but he wouldn’t leave South Carolina because he had a son. He was a good father.”
“Seeing Phillip shoot two kids, it’s not him. I can’t fathom it. It’s devastating for the victims and the families,” Casterline said.
Former Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith, who trained Adams leading up to the 2010 draft and after he entered the league, said he was a hard worker. He and Casterline both said Adams had opened a shop selling smoothies and juice before COVID-19 hit, and emphasized he didn’t drink or do drugs.
“He didn’t drink not one bit of alcohol,” Smith said. “He was a bit of a neat freak. In his house, everything was precisely placed.”
Lesslie had worked for decades as an emergency room doctor, board-certified in both emergency medicine and occupational medicine and serving as emergency department medical director for nearly 15 years at Rock Hill General Hospital, according to his website.
He founded two urgent care centers, wrote a weekly medical column for The Charlotte Observer, and also wrote a book, “Angels in the ER,” collecting what he termed “inspiring true stories” from his work. A biography page said he and his wife raised four children.
“I know without a doubt that life is fragile,” Lesslie wrote in his book. “I have come to understand that humility may be the greatest virtue. And I am convinced we need to take the time to say the things we deeply feel to the people we deeply care about.”
Contributors include AP Pro Football Writer Barry Wilner in New York; Josh Dubow in Alameda, Calif.; Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia and Nell Redmond in Rock Hill.