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Former NFL player kills 5 people, then himself, in South Carolina

A gunman killed five people including a prominent doctor and his grandchildren in South Carolina Wednesday, prompting an hourslong search that led to a suspect in a nearby home, authorities said. The gunman, identified as a former NFL player, died of what authorities believe was a self-inflicted gunshot wound, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said during a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Authorities had not yet determined a motive. “There’s nothing right now that makes sense to any of us,” Tolson told reporters.

Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70, and his wife, Barbara Lesslie, 69, were pronounced dead at the scene in Rock Hill along with grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5, the York County coroner’s office said.

A man who had been working at the home, James Lewis, 38, from Gaston, was found shot to death outside, and a sixth person was hospitalized with “serious gunshot wounds,” York County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Trent Faris said. 

South Carolina Shooting Report
This March 12, 2009, file photo shows Dr. Robert Lesslie in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

John D. Simmons/The Charlotte Observer via AP

Tolson said there was no indication the gunman, Phillip Adams, had a doctor-patient relationship with Robert Lesslie. Earlier, The Associated Press reported the gunman had been treated by the doctor, citing a source who was briefed on the investigation.

Tolson said evidence left at the scene of the shooting led them to the gunman. He said they went to his parents’ home, evacuated them and then tried to talk the gunman out of the house. Eventually, they found him dead in a bedroom, Tolson said.

In Washington, President Biden mentioned the shooting as he unveiled his first attempts to curb gun violence during a White House ceremony. “Gun violence in this country is an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment,” Mr. Biden said.

The 33-year-old gunman played in 78 NFL games over five seasons for six teams. A safety and special teams player from South Carolina State, he joined the 49ers in 2010 as a seventh-round draft pick.

South Carolina Shooting Report
San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams (35) sits on the sideline during the first quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco October 17, 2010.

Paul Sakuma / AP

Rarely a starter, the gunman also was with New England, Seattle, Oakland and the New York Jets, finishing his career with the Atlanta Falcons in 2015.

As a rookie late in the 2010 season, the gunman suffered a severe ankle injury that required surgery that included several screws being inserted into the leg. He never played for the 49ers again, getting released just before the 2011 season began and signing with New England. He moved next to the Raiders, where he had two concussions in a three game period in 2012.

Whether the gunman suffered long-lasting injuries from his concussions as a player wasn’t immediately clear. The gunman would not have been eligible for testing as part of a broad settlement between the league and its former players over such injuries because he hadn’t retired by 2014.

The gunman’s father told a Charlotte television station that he blamed football for problems that may have led his son to commit Wednesday’s violence.

“I can say he’s a good kid, he was a good kid, and I think the football messed him up,” Alonzo Adams told WCNC-TV. “He didn’t talk much and he didn’t bother nobody.”

Faris said early Thursday that deputies were called around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday to the Lesslies’ home and spent hours searching for the suspect before finding him in a nearby home.

“We have found the person we believe is responsible and we are with him at this time and that’s all I can say about the suspect,” Faris said, adding that they had no reason to believe anyone else was involved. “We are currently at his house and we are serving a search warrant.”

South Carolina Shooting Report
A York County sheriff’s deputy is parked outside a residence where multiple people, including a prominent doctor, were fatally shot a day earlier, Thursday, April 8, 2021, in Rock Hill, S.C. 

Nell Redmond / AP

Later Thursday, a few sheriff’s deputies were posted near the Lesslie home, which is far beyond an arched stone gate, up a long paved driveway and not visible from the road. The Adams home, roughly a mile down the road, is a modest, one-story brick house with several cars in the driveway.

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.

He founded two urgent care centers in the area and wrote a weekly medical column for The Charlotte Observer. He also wrote a book, “Angels in the ER,” collecting what he termed “inspiring true stories” from his time in the emergency department.

“I know without a doubt that life is fragile,” Lesslie wrote, according to an excerpt. “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.”

Faris said Lesslie was very well known in the Rock Hill community.

“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 said he and his wife raised four children and that Lesslie received his degree at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Rock Hill is a city in northernmost South Carolina about 25 miles southwest of Charlotte, North Carolina.

File source

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