© 2021 WFAE
90.7 Charlotte 93.7 Southern Pines 90.3 Hickory 106.1 Laurinburg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Crime & Justice

Sheriff: 5 Shot To Death Near Rock Hill; Suspect Was Ex-NFL Player Who Took His Own Life

york county sheriff 040821 shooting scene db
David Boraks
/
WFAE
A York County Sheriff's Office vehicle on April 8 blocks off the street where five people, including two children, were fatally shot the previous evening.

Updated 5:30 p.m.

The gunman who killed five people including a prominent doctor near Rock Hill, South Carolina, on Wednesday evening was former NFL player Phillip Adams, who killed himself early Thursday, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson confirmed.

“There's nothing right now that makes sense to any of us," said York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson.

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 Gastonia, was found shot to death outside. A sixth victim, Robert Shook, 38, of Cherryville, North Carolina, was flown to a Charlotte hospital, where he was in critical condition “fighting hard for his life,” said a cousin, Heather Smith Thompson.

At Thursday's news conference, Tolson played audio of two 911 calls, the first from an HVAC company that employed Lewis and Shook. One of them, the caller said, had called him “screaming” and saying that he had been shot, and that his coworker was shot and “unresponsive.”

“I think there’s been a bad shooting,” a different man said in a second 911 call, saying he was outside cutting his grass and heard “about 20” shots fired at the Lesslie home before seeing someone leave the house.

Tolson said evidence left at the scene of the shooting led authorities 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.

dr. robert lesslie photo.JPG
robertlesslie.com
Dr. Robert Lesslie

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 far up a driveway from an arched stone gate, and 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 the Adams' modest one-story brick home, about a mile down the road from the Lesslies, said police allowed her to return home around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Moments later, a vehicle pulled into their driveway and law enforcement quickly surrounded the property.

She said they spent hours negotiating with 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 Philip 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 Philip 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.”

___

Kinnard reported from Columbia, S.C. Contributors include AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner in New York and Rob Maadi in Philadelphia; Sports writer Josh Dubow in Alameda, Calif.; Legal affairs writer Maryclaire Dale in Philadelphia and Nell Redmond in Rock Hill.

This is a developing story.