Ex-NFL player suspected in S.C. shooting struggled through six injury-plagued seasons

David K. Li and Helen Kwong and Wilson Wong
·3 min read

Family members were stunned and bewildered Thursday by a spasm of violence in which a one-time professional football player was accused of shooting and killing five people in South Carolina on Wednesday and then dying by suicide.

Authorities said Thursday that the man, Phillip Adams, 32, a former NFL defensive back, died by suicide after he shot Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70, his wife, Barbara Lesslie, 69, their grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5, and James Lewis, 38.

The York County Sheriff's Office said that after an hourslong manhunt, officers found a suspect who "lives on the same road" as the victims and that a search warrant was served at the house.

"There's nothing about this, right now, that makes sense to any of us," Sheriff Kevin Tolson said in a news conference Thursday.

San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams #35 during the game between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco on Sept. 20, 2010. (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images file)
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams #35 during the game between the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers in San Francisco on Sept. 20, 2010. (Icon Sportswire via Getty Images file)

Adams played six seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, the New England Patriots, the Seattle Seahawks, the Oakland Raiders, the New York Jets and the Atlanta Falcons.

He might be best known for suffering a gruesome injury during a game Dec. 26, 2010, in his rookie season, between his visiting 49ers and the St. Louis Rams. Troubling video and photos showed Adams' left ankle and foot appearing to be snapped and pointing in different directions while he was pinned under a Rams player.

He was cut after that season and bounced around to several other teams.

Adams suffered at least two concussions late in the 2012 season with the Raiders.

"I think the football messed him up," Alonzo Adams, who identified himself as Adams' father, told NBC affiliate WCNC of Charlotte, North Carolina. He did not elaborate on the details of any football-related injuries his son may have suffered.

The elder Adams was at a loss to explain the carnage that unfolded Wednesday, before his son died early Thursday.

"All I can say is we pray for the family," Alonzo Adams said. "He used to be my doctor a long time ago. I know they were good folks down there. We're going to keep them in our prayers."

Robert Lesslie was the founder and medical director of Riverview House Calls & Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care, according to the company's website. He received his medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina and practiced in Rock Hill, south of Charlotte, for 40 years, the website said.

He and his wife had four adult children and eight grandchildren.

"We are truly in the midst of the unimaginable," the Lesslie family said in a statement Thursday. "The losses we are suffering cannot be uttered at this time. While we know there are no answers that will satisfy the question 'why,' we are sure of one thing: we do not grieve as those without hope."

Trent Faris, a sheriff's spokesman who has lived in Rock Hill his entire life, said Lesslie was his childhood doctor.

"A lot of people know Dr. Lesslie," Faris said. "This is a very tragic, tragic situation."

Investigators did not immediately determine a motive for the shooting.

Adams played in 78 NFL games from 2010 to 2015, making 121 tackles and intercepting five passes.

"Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the victims of this devastating tragedy," the NFL said in a statement.

Adams attended South Carolina State University, a historically Black college in Orangeburg, where he was an all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference performer. He was picked in the seventh round of the 2010 NFL draft by San Francisco.

If you or someone you know is at risk of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text TALK to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.