ROCK HILL, S.C. — On Sunday, in a sea of bright colors, the Rock Hill community locked arms and honored a family that was a light in the world.
Hundreds gathered at the vigil for the prominent South Carolina physician, his wife and two of their grandchildren -- all dead at the hands of former NFL player Phillip Adams authorities said -- to reflect on the lasting impression they made on their communities.
A memorial was held in Fountain Park four days after the tragic shooting on April 7 that claimed six lives.
People settled on camp chairs and picnic blankets for the service at a park in downtown Rock Hill, dressed in a gamut of bright shades, from vivid green and orange to robin blue. Mourners cried and laughed in equal parts at shared memories of Robert and Barbara Lesslie, and two of their grandchildren, 9-year-old Adah Lesslie and 5-year-old Noah Lesslie.
Channel 9′s Genevieve Curtis was there and said people started showing up an hour before it began to honor and pay tribute to the family.
“The Lesslies were all part of our family,” one attendee said. “The place is a little less bright without them.”
Hundreds remembered how Dr. Robert Lesslie, his wife Barbara, and their grandchildren Noah and Adah, lived a life dedicated to Jesus Christ and to serving others.
Three of the Lesslie’s four children -- the aunts and uncle of Adah and Noah -- spoke to their community.
“The past few days have been filled with much suffering and grief, but also peppered with the most amazing treasures sent directly from God,” Amy Kulbok, one of the Lesslie’s adult children, said.
One of the Lesslie’s granddaughters shared a birthday message that Barbara Lesslie wrote to her just a few weeks ago, showing how strong her faith was.
“He has the best for you in this and in the next life all mapped out,” she said.
Jon Oliphant, the Associate Pastor at First ARP Church where the Lesslies were members, shared fond memories and funny stories of each, sending waves of laughter through the crowd at the vigil. He said Adah had a big heart and a big brain and loved to read, and that Noah was known for his exuberance and energy, and that the boy was always curious.
“To know Adah and Noah was to love them,” Oliphant said. “They were both a shining light to so many.”
One of the treasures the family discovered recently is a song written by the musically talented Adah Lesslie. The sweet lyrics were read by her aunt.
“Even in the deepest fog, we will find one another and love each other. When people see us, they will see Jesus Christ in you and me,” her aunt read. “You and me, we can love one another even through the hardest times, even through the darkest days.”
The community also prayed for and remembered Lewis and Shook. Both men are fathers of three children.
In memory of the family, people were encouraged to donate books and canned goods. The bins were quickly filled to the top.
“They gave wherever they went, they glorified Christ whenever they did, so this is what they would want,” attendee Rebecca Austin said.
People who didn’t know the Lesslie family felt compelled to be there.
“It’s important that we face evil and tragedy with good,” attendee Kara Winn said. “It was also important because we know some of the children who were closer to them.”
The Lesslie family’s legacy also inspired those like 9-year-old Lydia who helped get canned goods to those in need.
“I want to glorify God in what I do,” she said.
The Lesslie family lived a life dedicated to Christ and was well-known for their community service and for always giving back.
“That’s what gave them joy -- was being of service,” one attendee said.
“The best legacy we can do and the best memorial for them is to be as united in the heart for service as they were,” said friend Elizabeth Hartley.
On Sunday, the aftermath of the shooting strung together many in Rock Hill, as bubbles drifted through the air and mourners still fresh in their grief linked arms in song in honor of the Lesslies’ lives.
They remembered Robert Lesslie, 70, as a Renaissance man who not only practiced medicine and attended to many in the community but authored books and took up horticulture as a hobby.
Bob Elliott, once an associate pastor at the Lesslies’ church, recalled the first time he saw Barbara Lesslie, known among many as “Ms. B.” During announcements at a worship service, she was rolled down the aisle in wheelbarrow, dressed in a tutu. “Is this allowed?” Elliot recalled wondering.
It was one among many anecdotes shared Sunday about Barbara Lesslie, 69, and her humor and exuberance for life. She joined a comedic skit group that was booked for birthday parties and civic events; she took at-risk teens to the emergency room, the morgue, the prison through an intervention program, those present at the vigil recalled.
“She was ageless. Her personality would be just as aligned with a 15-year-old as a 70-year-old,” said Elizabeth Hartley, a longtime counselor at Camp Joy, a Christian special needs camp in North Carolina where Robert served as the doctor for two decades and Barbara taught Bible lessons to campers.
Robert Lesslie awakened campers each day at 7 a.m. with the bagpipes, an instrument he picked up only in adulthood, said Elizabeth Smith, whose family worked at the camp. Barbara Lesslie’s preparations for Bible classes were so thorough — especially the elaborate visual aids she made that papered the walls — that no other teachers wanted to take her place, added Neal Stroup, the camp’s administrative director.
The grandchildren, Adah and Noah, ran around Camp Joy too, Adah helping to blow up balloons at a camp reunion a couple years ago.
Roger Revell, whose family attends church with the Lesslies, said both of the grandchildren, Adah and Noah, were not only smart, attending Spanish immersion classes, but also kind. He recalled that this year, both of them had graciously re-hid their Easter eggs five times so Revell’s own young daughter could find them over and over again.
Noah had recently been gifted his own set of bagpipes, following in his grandfather’s footsteps. Adah, just as precocious, had told people she was reading “Little Women” in just the second grade: “She made most parents feel rather discouraged,” Revell said.
The vigil closed with five minutes of silent prayer — not just for the Lesslies, but also for the Shook, Lewis and Adams families, pastors said — with a hymn playing in the background, as some attendees cried gently.
“You see in Scripture where Jesus himself grieves the loss of Lazarus. But for those of us who are in Christ, we grieve, but we grieve with hope,” said Jamie Dagenhart, an elder at the church. “Because we know that one day, we will be reunited again with Robert and Barbara and Adah and Noah, in heaven.”
A private funeral is planned for Wednesday.
The Lesslie family has also established a P.O. Box for those who wish to send cards and letters:
PO Box 36306
Rock Hill, S.C. 29732
(The Associated Press contributed to this article.)
Memorial grows as community mourns victims of York County mass shooting
A mass shooting on Wednesday evening left six people dead, including a prominent doctor in York County and two children.
The York County coroner’s office said Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70, and his wife, Barbara Lesslie, 69, were pronounced dead at the scene along with grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5.
A fifth victim, James Lewis, 38, from Gastonia, was found dead outside. Authorities said he had been working at the Lesslie’s home when he was shot. Lewis’s co-worker, Robert Shook, 38, was also shot and taken to a Charlotte hospital with critical injuries but died three days later, according to the York County Coroner’s Office.
Officials said Dr. Robert Lesslie was a prominent figure in Rock Hill and very well-known, and the shooting has left the South Carolina town devastated.
On Friday morning, Channel 9 crews could see a growing memorial outside the Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill, where Robert Lesslie worked.
Below are some memories the community has shared of Dr. Lesslie and his family:
- “Such a tragic loss for our community, the family, friends, and for all who had the privilege to know this precious family.” -Deb King
- “He was my doctor and I am beyond devastated. He completed my check up for adoption three weeks ago and told me what a miraculous thing I was doing for two children.” -Julie Lynn Setser
- “I worked with him for years. Amazing doctor.” -Monica Madaris
- “They were awesome people. Had a need to love special needs and very involved with Camp Joy. I have a special needs daughter who loves Barbara Lesslie.” -Lisa Duggins
- “Awesome man my heart breaks for his family. If you ever got to work alongside him, he was amazing.” -Michelle Hunter
- “There are just no words for this loss.” -Sheila Caldwell
- “Barbara Lessile was one of the sweetest and most giving people as I have ever had the pleasure to call friend! Rip beautiful angel.” - Cindy Mace
- “So absolutely horrific, my heart breaks for this entire family especially the couple that not only lost their parents but their 2 children as well. Faithful prayers.” -Wanda Hutchens
- “Though I wasn’t his patient directly, I heard of his dedication, passion, and love for his patients through conversations at his practice. He was loved by fellow doctors and patients alike and it showed.” -Rachel Sanders Bigham
- “Our medical community is devastated as well as the entire community of York County. What a horrific act of violence this was, may God give everyone strength and comfort in the coming days.” -Linda Patti
- “Praying for his family especially the parents of these children. To loose your parents and your children at the same time. God be with them. Dr. Lesslie used to be my doctor. Known him 30 plus years.” -Minnie Dee
- “I have been a patient some years back of Dr. Lesslie. Kind and very compassionate to everyone. My heart is heavy for the loss of him & his family & to the gentleman’s family who lost his life as well. Prayers also for the healing & recovery of the gentleman in the hospital. Praying for the friends & community.” -Rhonda Brazzell
- “He was an awesome doctor who save my life. He will be missed.” -Iris Dickerson
>> You can share more memories of Dr. Lesslie and his family or read how they impacted the lives of others by visiting the WSOCTV Facebook page.