Ex-NFL player Phillip Adams kills 5, injures 1 in Rock Hill, SC before killing himself

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Andrew Dys, Tobie Nell Perkins
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For updates on the Rock Hill, South Carolina shooting following Thursday afternoon’s news conference, read here.

Five people were killed Wednesday and a sixth wounded in York County in a mass shooting, officials said, with the suspect dying by suicide early Thursday morning after a lengthy manhunt.

The victims included a prominent Rock Hill doctor and his wife, two of their grandchildren, and a worker who was at the doctor’s Marshall Road home outside Rock Hill where the shootings took place, police and coroner officials said.

The suspect was identified as former NFL player Phillip Adams, the York County Coroner told The Herald.

York County Sheriff’s Office deputies said an eight-hour manhunt ended around 1 a.m. at a home near where the shooting happened. Adams, a Rock Hill native, killed himself inside his family’s home, the York County Sheriff said.

Adams, 32, played for the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets in a six-year career that began in 2010.

York County Coroner Sabrina Gast identified the victims found dead in the house as: Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70; his wife, Barbara Lesslie, 69; Adah Lesslie, 9; and Noah Lesslie, 5.

James Lewis, 38, an air conditioning technician with GSM Services of Gastonia, NC, was killed. Robert Shook, another technician, was injured and remains in serious condition, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said at a Thursday news conference.

The Lesslie family issued a statement, read by Tolson Thursday, that said “the losses we are suffering cannot be uttered at this time.”

“We are truly in the midst of the unimaginable,” the Lesslie family said. “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.”

Authorities do not yet know a motive for the shooting, Tolson said.

Tolson said his detectives have not confirmed reports and information from friends that said Adams had been a patient of Lesslie’s.

“We don’t know why this happened yet,” Tolson said.

Law enforcement officials used helicopter search lights Wednesday night as they tracked a suspect in connection with a mass shooting near Rock Hill, S.C.
Law enforcement officials used helicopter search lights Wednesday night as they tracked a suspect in connection with a mass shooting near Rock Hill, S.C.

The victims

Robert Lesslie had practiced medicine in York County for decades, with a specialty in emergency room medicine. He was medical director of the Emergency Room at Piedmont Medical Center for 15 years and worked at several other Charlotte-area hospitals, according to his biography from his medical practice.

He was medical director of Riverview House Calls & Riverview Hospice & Palliative Care.

Dr. Robert Lesslie, in a 2009 file photo.  Lesslie, his wife, two of their grandchildren, and a worker who was at the doctor’s Marshall Road home outside Rock Hill were all shot to death Wednesday, April 7, 2021.
Dr. Robert Lesslie, in a 2009 file photo. Lesslie, his wife, two of their grandchildren, and a worker who was at the doctor’s Marshall Road home outside Rock Hill were all shot to death Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

He and Barbara Lesslie had been married more than 40 years.

Lesslie was a legend in health care in Rock Hill, and authored books on emergency room work and workers.

When he published the book “Angels in the ER” in 2008, Robert Lesslie told The Herald an emergency room doctor learns about people and from people during every shift.

“I’ve been an observer of human condition as well as a physician. There’s no better place to be an observer than the ER. You find out what people are about. Everybody has something to teach us. I wanted to do this from a spiritual perspective. Once that became clear to me, it wrote itself.”

Friends of the Lesslies described the couple as caring, loving members of the community who had served the public through the medical practice and in other ways for decades.

In this 2009 file photo, Dr. Robert Lesslie is standing, second from left, in Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill.  Lesslie, his wife, two of their grandchildren, and a worker who was at the doctor’s Marshall Road home outside Rock Hill were all shot to death Wednesday, April 7, 2021.
In this 2009 file photo, Dr. Robert Lesslie is standing, second from left, in Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill. Lesslie, his wife, two of their grandchildren, and a worker who was at the doctor’s Marshall Road home outside Rock Hill were all shot to death Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

“Our hearts are just completely broken,” one longtime friend of the Lesslie family said.

Tributes poured in on Facebook and other social media after the victims’ identities were released around midnight.

The shooting

Soon after police arrived at the Lesslies’ home, police identified Adams as the suspect because of evidence he left behind. Tolson declined to identify the evidence.

An eight-hour manhunt for the suspect went on until around 1 a.m. Thursday, said Faris, the York County Sheriff’s Office spokesman. The shooting occurred before 5 p.m.

Faris said in a media briefing after 1 a.m. that deputies located Adams nearby in his family’s home, where the investigation continued, Faris said.

Deputies removed Adams’ parents from the home while Adams was inside, Tolson said. Sheriff’s office negotiators then tried to reach Adams inside the home, but he did not respond, Tolson said.

When deputies entered the home, they found Adams dead from what the coroner said was a self-inflicted gunshot.

Police were searching in darkness Wednesday night for a suspect in connection with multiple shootings near Rock Hill, S.C.
Police were searching in darkness Wednesday night for a suspect in connection with multiple shootings near Rock Hill, S.C.

It remains unclear what relationship, if any, there was between the Lesslie family and the suspect, Faris said.

“We are all shocked this could happen here in York County,” Faris said. “This is a mass shooting. Normally you think of a movie theater or a mall but we are treating this as a mass shooting because there were five victims killed.”

A caller to 911 indicated as many as 20 shots were fired, according to the call played at a Thursday news conference.

Adams used two handguns, a 9 mm and a .45 caliber, in the shootings, Tolson said.

He confirmed that all of the victims were injured by gunshots wounds and no other weapons were used.

Faris said the incident is particularly heartbreaking because of Dr. Lesslie’s prominence in the community. “He was my doctor, if that says enough,” he said.

The manhunt

Police had been searching for the male suspect wearing a black hoodie and camouflage pants since shortly after the victims were found, Faris said. Deputies said during the manhunt the “suspect is possibly armed & dangerous.”

People in the area were advised to stay inside their homes, the sheriff’s office said.

A neighbor told The Herald that deputies came to the house around 6 p.m. and advised them to stay inside, but neighbors were then allowed to leave around 8 p.m.

A State Law Enforcement Division helicopter continued to fly through the area in the dark until around midnight, shining a spotlight in the search.

Other police agencies, including SLED agents and others from local, state and federal law enforcement departments, were on scene. K-9 units and patrol deputies also assisted detectives in the search.

Tolson, Wednesday night, cautioned against people spreading information on social media that hadn’t come from official sources.

“Out of respect for families involved, please don’t share rumors,” the statement said. “Share facts from reliable sources.”

The area is south of Rock Hill, west of Interstate 77, and north of the Chester County line. The area is rural with heavy woods on all sides.

York County, across the state line in South Carolina from Charlotte, is home to around 275,000 people.