Dr. Robert Lesslie and family among those killed by Phillip Adams in South Carolina shooting: What we know

A prominent local doctor, his wife and their two young grandchildren were among those killed Wednesday in a shooting at their home in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

The suspected gunman was identified as former NFL player Phillip Adams, who later killed himself, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said in a press conference Thursday. Police said they found the suspect late Wednesday in a nearby home after an hourslong manhunt.

Adams’ parents live near the doctor’s home. Neighbor Allison Hope said she saw police surround the house and spend hours negotiating with Adams using a loudspeaker. She said police asked Adams to come out and promised to get his disabled mother out safely, before Adams shot himself.

‘It doesn’t happen here’:Former NFL player Phillip Adams named as suspect in deadly shooting, reports say

A fifth person working at the family’s home was also found dead, and a sixth person was injured.

Here’s what we know:

Who are the victims?

Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70, Barbara Lesslie, 69, and their grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5, were pronounced dead at the scene, according to the York County coroner’s office.

James Lewis, 38, was found dead outside. Lewis was working at the home at the time, police said.

The sixth victim is Robert Shook, who is in very critical condition, Tolson said. He is an employee of GSM Services, the HVAC company where Lewis was also employed.

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, R-S.C., who attended Rock Hill High School, said he and his wife were close friends with the Lesslies.

“To know the Lesslie family is to love them,” Norman tweeted. “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.”

Who was Dr. Robert Lesslie?

Lesslie practiced in the area since 1981 and founded Riverview House Calls & Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care, according to its website.

He worked in emergency rooms for decades, including as medical director of the emergency department at Rock Hill General Hospital for almost 15 years, according to a website bio.

“Dr. Lesslie has been one of those people that everybody knows,” said Trent Faris, York County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson, in a press conference.

This March 12, 2009, file photo shows Dr. Robert Lesslie in Rock Hill, South Carolina.  Authorities say a gunman, identified as former NFL player Phillip Adams, killed Lesslie, his wife and grandchildren on Wednesday, April 7, 2021, in Rock Hill.  Adams killed himself early Thursday, according to a source who was briefed on the investigation.

Lesslie founded two urgent care centers in the area and was also an author and columnist. For seven years, Lesslie wrote a weekly medical column for the Charlotte Observer, and his 2008 book, “Angels in the ER,” told the stories of ER patients and staff. When asked once if he truly believe angels roamed the ER, he responded on Facebook.

“Those of us who have been privileged to work in the ER, those of us who have been able to care for people when their lives are slipping away, and to stand with loved ones in the moment of their greatest uncertainty, fear, or grief, and to rejoice when a life is saved, know that we are not alone,” he wrote.

The doctor was also supervising physician and medical director at Winthrop University in Rock Hill for more than 25 years. In a statement, the university’s president George W. Hynd called Lesslie a “caring professional who touched lives and left our campus a better place” and thanked him for helping Winthrop’s COVID-19 response team.

“We simply would not have been able to successfully open and provide on-site quarantine and isolation support if it were not for Dr. Lesslie,” he said.

Lesslie and his wife have four children and eight grandchildren, according to a website bio. They lived in Rock Hill, South Carolina with their golden retriever, several miniature horses, goats, donkeys and chickens. He enjoyed golfing and bagpiping.

Lesslie was also an active member of and served as an elder at a local church in Rock Hill, his bio states. There, he and his wife taught Sunday school and sang in the church choir. They also worked with Camp Joy, an outreach program for people with disabilities. He enjoyed mentoring high school and college students considering careers in medicine.

After the shooting, Lesslie’s website administrator posted on his Facebook page with words that Lesslie had written in his book:

“One day, when I depart this body and find myself in the presence of the Lord, my time, however it will be measured, will be filled with the praises and the wonder of Jesus,” he wrote. “I know that I will once again be able to hug my mother and walk and talk with my father. There are a lot of people I want to see as well—family and friends, grandparents, some of whom I never met on this side.”

“We have no idea what Heaven will look like, only that it will be perfect,” he continued. “I will find myself walking with Barbara in a field of lush, green grass, surrounded by gently rising conifer-cloaked hills.”

Who was the fifth victim?

James Lewis, 38, was pronounced dead at the scene by York County Coroner Sabrina Gast. Lewis, from Gastonia, North Carolina, was working at the home at the time of the shooting, according to a statement by Gast.

A single father of three, Lewis worked as an HVAC technician for GSM Services. His parents, Tom Lewis and Linda Tucker, moved to Gastonia from Michigan to be closer to Lewis, their only child, and his children – a 16-year-old boy and 12-year-old twins.

“He was my best friend,” Tom Lewis said.

“I keep on expecting to wake up. ‘Oh, that was just a bad dream.’ It’s not. It’s real,” he added.

James Lewis was also interested in woodworking, fishing and shooting sports. He had just begun rebuilding a trailer before his death, his father said.

“He was such a great man. He was doing so much. He helped out with river clean-ups. He helped anybody he could,” Tucker said. “The kindest guy and a great dad.”

Learn more about the victim: Parents of mass shooting victim from Gastonia react

What do we know about Phillip Adams, the suspect?

The suspect was identified by Tolson as former NFL player Phillip Adams, a defensive back who played in 78 games over six years in the league.

Adams, 32, was drafted in the seventh round in 2010 by the San Francisco 49ers and went on to play for them and five other teams, finishing his career in 2015 with the Atlanta Falcons.

Breaking down Phillip Adams’ NFL career: ‘I think the football messed him up,’ says Adams’ father

He starred at South Carolina State, where he played cornerback, but suffered several injuries during his pro career, including a severe ankle injury and two concussions in three games in 2012.

Adams’ sister, Lauren Adams, told USA TODAY that he used to be laid-back but his personality changed abruptly a couple of years ago and he became argumentative.

“His mental health degraded fast and terribly bad. There was unusual behavior,” she said. “We definitely did notice signs of mental illness that was extremely concerning, that was not like we had ever seen. And it was not the person that we knew.”

Lauren Adams said two weeks ago her brother talked about his resentment toward the NFL in its handling of his disability claim and his belief the league was making it difficult for him to collect on the claim.

“I think he got upset about that and that’s kind of where it started, with him kind of feeling like the whole world was against him,” she said. “We just started to notice a huge change and you could tell talking to him that something was not right.”

Phillip Adams’ parents live near the doctor’s home, and he has been treated by the doctor in the past, a source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly told the Associated Press.

Adams’ former agent, Scott Casterline, told the AP his client tended to keep to himself as a player and after his career ended.

“All of us who knew Phillip are shaking our heads,” Casterline said. “He struggled away from the game. I tried to get him to come to Texas. I was going to find him a job, but he wouldn’t leave South Carolina because he had a son. He was a good father. Seeing Phillip shoot two kids, it’s not him. I can’t fathom it. It’s devastating for the victims and the families.”

Casterline and former Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith, who used to train Adams, said the retired defensive back had opened a shop selling smoothies and juice before the pandemic hit, and emphasized he didn’t drink or use drugs.

Contributing: Gavin Stewart and Joe L Hughes II, The Gaston Gazette; The Associated Press

Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at cfernando@usatoday.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.

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