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A former NFL player fired as many as 20 shots Wednesday when he killed five people and wounded a sixth after forcing his way into the home of a prominent Rock Hill doctor, the York County sheriff said Thursday.
After a lengthy manhunt, Phillip Adams, a Rock Hill native, killed himself inside his family’s home down the street from the site of the shooting, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said.
Tolson provided new details Thursday afternoon about the mass shooting that sent shockwaves through the community and drew national attention.
Adams, 32, forced his way into the home of Dr. Robert Lesslie after shooting two air conditioning workers outside the house, Tolson said.
Inside the house on Marshall Road, Adams then shot Lesslie, 70; Lesslie’s wife Barbara, 69; and two of their grandchildren Adah, 9, and Noah, 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, Tolson said.
Adams then went to his family’s home, where he died by suicide as police surrounded the house, Tolson said.
The Lesslie family issued a statement, read by Tolson, 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.”
What was the motive of SC shooting?
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.
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 had been medical director of Riverview House Calls & Riverview Hospice & Palliative Care at the time of his death and had written several books on emergency room work and workers.
Tolson called Robert Lesslie a “pillar in this community.” Robert and Barbara Lesslie had been married more than 40 years.
As the York County community mourned, Rock Hill and the shooting attracted headlines around the country. President Joe Biden mentioned it during a speech Thursday as he announced new executive actions on gun reform.
“Gun violence in this country is an epidemic,” he said. “You know, we saw that again. Last night, as I was coming to the Oval Office, I got the word that, in South Carolina, a physician with his wife, two grandchildren, and a person working at his house was gunned down —all five.”
Officers were called to the home — in a rural area south of Rock Hill and and north of the Chester County line — about 4:45 p.m. Wednesday.
Tolson said two 911 calls alerted police about the shooting — one from an employee at the heating and air company where Shook and Lewis worked, and one from a nearby landscaper.
Shook was still conscious after being shot near a van and called his office to tell them what happened.
“I’ve been shot, please call 911!” the technician told people at his office.
Meanwhile, the landscaper told the 911 operator that four people had been shot and that he saw Adams walk out of the house after hearing the shots.
“There’s two workers outside,” the landscaper said in the 911 call. “And four shot inside.”
The landscaper’s call indicated as many as 20 shots were fired, according to the call played at the news conference.
Adams used two handguns, a 9 mm and a .45 caliber, in the shootings, Tolson said.
“We can say right now there were multiple gunshots,” Tolson said.
The four members of the Lesslie family were found shot to death in a back bedroom, Tolson said.
Lewis was found dead in the driveway near his van, Tolson said.
Soon after police arrived, police identified Adams as the suspect because of evidence he left behind. Tolson declined to identify the evidence.
At the Adams’ family home nearby, deputies removed Adams’ parents from the home while Adams was inside, Tolson said. Adams’ parents were not aware of what had happened, 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.
Who is Phillip Adams?
Adams was a football and basketball star at Rock Hill High School, where he was part of the 2014 Rock Hill Bearcats team that won a Class 4A Division I state championship. He also won a high school state championship in basketball.
He played both football and basketball at South Carolina State University and was drafted in the seventh round in 2010 by the San Francisco 49ers.
During his six-year career, he also played for the Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets, The Charlotte Observer reported.
During the 2012 NFL season with the Raiders, he suffered two concussions over a three-game stretch, which, combined with a groin injury, eventually ended his season. He also had a gruesome broken left ankle in 2010.
Adams has had earlier run-ins with authorities. He was charged in Mecklenburg County in 2016 with carrying a concealed gun. That charge was dismissed.
On Tuesday, Adams was convicted of several York County traffic charges, including driving under suspension and failure to maintain proof of insurance, S.C. records show.
GSM Services in Gastonia issued a statement saying the company’s employees are “heartbroken” about the shooting.
Lewis and Shook are “long-standing, beloved members” of the company, according to a statement. They’re “family-focused, upbeat and wonderful team members who cared about all the people they encountered.”
The company said it would provide their families and employees with support and thanked law enforcement and the community for surrounding them with thoughts and prayers.
“Our community has helped us build this company through all of our good times and we are blessed knowing this support continues during bad times,” the statement said.
‘Forgiveness and peace’
Tolson read a statement from the Lesslie family during the news conference. In that statement, the family said “our hearts are bent toward forgiveness and peace.”
The family amplified that message in a Facebook post on Dr. Lesslie’s page. They thanked the community for the outpouring of support.
“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,” they wrote. “Our hope is found in the promise of Jesus Christ, and we are enveloped by peace that surpasses all understanding.
“Our hearts are bent toward forgiveness and peace. Toward love and connectedness. Toward celebration and unity,” the family wrote. “We honor all of those involved in this story with prayers and compassion specifically for the Shook family, the Lewis family, and the Adams family.
“As Robert Lesslie would say, when peace like a river attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll, it is well with my soul.”
Charlotte Observer reporters Alaina Getzenberg and Ames Alexander contributed to this report