YORK COUNTY, S.C. — Former NFL pro Phillip Adams killed five people, including a prominent doctor and two children, Wednesday in York County before he was found dead, investigators said. A sixth victim died days later, according to officials.
York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson told a news conference that investigators had not yet determined a motive for Wednesday’s mass shooting.
“There’s nothing right now that makes sense to any of us,” Tolson said.
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.
The shooting happened at the Lesslie’s home, deputies said.
A fifth victim, James Lewis, 38, from Gastonia, was found dead outside. Authorities said he had been working at the home on the Lesslie’s HVAC system when he was shot.
The coroner said all five deaths have been ruled homicides.
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A sixth victim, Robert Shook, 38, of Cherryville, North Carolina, was also working at the home when he was shot. He was flown to a Charlotte hospital in critical condition, but died days later, according to the York County coroner’s office.
The search for the shooter
The York County Sheriff’s Office said they had searched for hours before finding Adams in his parent’s home. According to the York County Sheriff’s Office, Adams’ parents live about a quarter-mile from the Lesslie’s home in Rock Hill.
“We have ID’d the person we feel is responsible for the shooting on Marshall Rd. We found him in a nearby house. There is no active threat to the community,” the York County Sheriff’s Office tweeted late Wednesday.
Tolson said Adams was quickly identified as a suspect based on evidence he left at the scene of the shooting, but did not not say what that evidence was.
Deputies said they were able to safely remove Adams’ parents from their home while trying to negotiate with Adams to surrender peacefully. Around 2:30 a.m., Adams was found dead inside the house. His cause of death was listed as a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to the coroner’s office.
Tolson said both a .45-caliber and 9mm weapon were used in Wednesday’s shooting.
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 the men, 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.
Adams, 32, played in 78 NFL games over six 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, Adams suffered a severe ankle injury and never played for the 49ers again. 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 former players over such injuries, because he hadn’t retired by 2014.
Officials couldn’t say what the motive for the shooting was and Tolson said he could not confirm a doctor-patient relationship between Adams and Lesslie.
“There’s nothing about this right now that makes sense to any of us and that’s why we’re working so hard to try to get more information,” Tolson said.
Timeline of events
Faris said deputies were called around 4:45 p.m. to the home on Marshall Road in the Rock Hill area.
In a news release, the York County Coroner’s Office said it responded to the home “to investigate multiple deaths at the residence.”
Chopper 9 Skyzoom flew over the area and could see two medical helicopters and an ambulance responding to the scene before deputies asked our helicopter to stand down. A SWAT team vehicle was also spotted.
Deputies said when they arrived at the house, they found both HVAC workers lying outside near their trucks with gunshot wounds. Officials said that after they went in and cleared the house, they found Lesslie, his wife and their two grandchildren dead in a back room.
“We are shocked that this type of incident happened here,” Faris said. “It doesn’t happen here. It’s one of those strange things that a lot of people are going to have a hard time understanding and we just hope that everybody understands that we’re going to do everything we can to try to figure out why this happened here in Rock Hill, South Carolina.”
Shortly after the shooting, the York County Sheriff’s Office tweeted that detectives were searching for a man wearing a black hoodie and camo pants who was last seen in the area. Officials said he was possibly armed and dangerous and residents needed to lock their doors and stay inside.
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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. The person 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.
Allison Hope, who lives across from Adams’ parents’ home, about a mile from the Lesslies, said police allowed her to return home around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Moments later, a vehicle pulled into the Adams’ driveway and law enforcement quickly surrounded the property.
She said they spent hours negotiating with Phillip 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,” Hope said.
Gastonia HVAC workers among the victims
On Thursday morning, Channel 9 reporter Ken Lemon confirmed that Lewis and Shook worked at Gaston Sheet Metal Services in Gastonia.
A note letting customers know the business was closed Thursday was posted on the front door, saying, ”Our team at GSM Services is heartbroken from the events that transpired yesterday evening in York, SC. Both men involved in this incident are long-standing, beloved members of our family at GSM. These men embody the values we strive to achieve at GSM and are family focused, up-beat, and wonderful team members who cared about all the people they encountered. In the coming days, our focus is on helping these families and our team members cope with this tragedy ... Please continue to keep our families in your thoughts and prayers in the coming days.”
“One of those people that everybody knows”
Dr. Lesslie was a prominent figure in Rock Hill and very well-known.
“I’ve lived in Rock Hill my entire life and Dr. Lesslie was my doctor growing up,” Faris said. “Dr. Lesslie has been one of those people that everybody knows. He started Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill and it’s been a staple in Rock Hill for years.”
A biography page of Dr. Lesslie said he and his wife of 35 years raised four children.
He and his wife had nine grandchildren and were actively involved with their church, as well as with Camp Joy, which works with children with disabilities and where Lesslie served as camp physician for a week each summer.
Lesslie had worked for decades as an emergency room doctor in Rock Hill, 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.
Dr. Robert Lesslie has been practicing in Rock Hill since 1981, according to the Riverview website. He received his degree at the Medical University of South Carolina and has worked in the surrounding Rock Hill area and Charlotte.
He founded two urgent care centers in the area and wrote a weekly medical column for The Charlotte Observer. He also wrote several books, including “Angels in the ER,” collecting what he termed “inspiring true stories” from his time in the emergency department.
In that book, he said, “25 years in the ER have taught me a lot of things. I know without a doubt that life is fragile. 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.”
Another excerpt reads, “Ultimately, the ER is a place where the faith of each one of us will be tested. Here we can learn who we are and on what ground we stand. And sometimes, it is a place where our faith can be found.”
The investigation is ongoing.
Statement from the Lesslie, Alexander and Kulbok families:
“On behalf of the Lesslie, Alexander, and Kulbok clans, we would like to address the outpouring of heartbreak, shock, grief, and support from our family, friends, and community. We are truly in the midst of the unimaginable. 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.
Our hope is found in the promise of Jesus Christ, and we are enveloped by peace that surpasses all understanding. To that end, our hearts are bent toward forgiveness and peace. Toward love and connectedness. Toward celebration and unity. 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.
If you would like to do something for the family, Adah and Noah would want you to stock the free pantries and libraries in your community. Barbara and Robert would want you to be good stewards of what you are given, leaving every place better than it was before you got there. Adah, Noah, Barbara, Robert, and the rest of the family would ask any memorials or gifts to be sent to Camp Joy North Carolina (918 South Pleasantburg Dr., Greenville, SC 29607) in honor of hope and the promise of eternity.
- The Lesslie, Alexander, and Kulbok Families”
On Thursday morning, Rep. Norman issued the following statement in reaction to the loss of Dr. Lesslie, his wife, and their grandchildren:
“I cannot begin to describe the heartache and pain Elaine and I are feeling this morning, as we mourn the tragic loss of Dr. Robert Lesslie, his wife, Barbara, and their grandchildren, Adah, and Noah.
“Robert and Barbara were close friends of ours. To know the Lesslie family is to love them. Through the decades, they made such an incredible impact on our area and the lives of countless people – more than they could have ever known.
“It is impossible to imagine the grief that the extended Lesslie family must be feeling, including and especially their adult children. Please join me in lifting them up in prayers, and wrapping them in the same love and support they’ve shown many of us over the years.
“I also want to send my sincere condolences to the family of James Lewis from Gaston, NC, who also lost his life yesterday. And to the men and women with the York County Sheriff’s Office as well as other first responders: thank you.
“There is a huge hole in our hearts this morning. Though we are overwhelmed with sadness and confusion, I thank God for the blessing of Robert and Barbara’s friendship, and what their family has meant to so many people throughout our community.”
The York County Council and York County Government released the following statement:
“(We) are deeply saddened by the tragic incident that took place yesterday in our community and extends (our) deepest condolences and prayers to all affected by yesterday’s act of violence. York County grieves and mourns alongside our community as we continue to process the events that took place yesterday.
“York County offers our support and acknowledges the heroic services of the York County Sheriff’s Office and all the public safety organizations that diligently worked throughout the night to protect our community.”
“We mourn together as a community in this tragic loss, and words cannot express the heaviness in our hearts,” said York County Chairwoman, Christi Cox. “We come together in prayer and offer our deepest condolences to the families directly impacted by yesterday’s heartbreaking events. York County is thankful for our York County Sherriff’s Office and all the law enforcement agencies and first responders who selflessly and tirelessly worked throughout the evening, night, and morning hours to protect our community.”
*The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Cox Media Group