Police working to determine motive in Phillip Adams’ shooting spree that left 5 dead in South Carolina: What we know

ROCK HILL, S.C. — Authorities on Friday are working to determine a possible motive after Wednesday’s shooting spree when police say former NFL player Phillip Adams gunned down five people, including a beloved doctor, his wife and their two young grandchildren.

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

Adams, 32, played cornerback for teams including the San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots. He was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his family’s home, down the street from the massacre in Rock Hill, the York County Sheriff’s Office said. Autopsy and toxicology reports are pending. 

Rock Hill is a city of about 75,000 in northern South Carolina. 

Here’s what we know Friday:

Lesslie family: Who were the victims?

The victims were identified as: Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70; Barbara Lesslie, 69; who were married; and their grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5.

James Lewis, 38, was found dead outside. Lewis was working at the home for a company that specializes in air conditioning, roof and heating repair, police said.

Another employee was found injured and taken to a hospital where he is in critical condition.

More about the victims: ‘To know the Lesslie family is to love them’

How has the family responded?

The family released a statement through the sheriff’s office describing their grief and calling for prayers for all involved, including the suspect’s family. 

“We are truly in the midst of the unimaginable,” the Lesslie family said in statement. “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. To that end, our hearts are bent toward forgiveness and peace.”

The family encouraged people wanting to do something for the family to stock the free pantries and libraries in your community and to donate to Camp Joy North Carolina. Dr. Lesslie volunteered at the camp for more than 20 years as camp physician, according to Brent Turner, executive director of the organization that oversees the camp.

Robert Lesslie and Barbara Lesslie, who served as Bible teacher, worked at the camp in Flat Rock, nestled in the North Carolina mountains. They made the summer visits a family affair, bringing children and grandchildren as fellow volunteers.

What did the 911 calls tell us?

The 911 calls started around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday with a man identifying himself as a supervisor for a repair company, according to call recordings provided by police. The man reported that one of his employees called him screaming that he had been shot while a second employee wasn’t moving.

“He just keeps saying, ‘I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot. Call 911. Please call 911’” the man told a 911 operator. “One is unresponsive, another is talking slurred, and he can’t talk.”

An 80-year-old neighbor also called 911 and told the operator that they were cutting the grass in the yard when they heard “about 20 shots.” They reported seeing one person laying on the ground.

‘Nothing makes sense’:Former NFL player Phillip Adams shot, killed five people – including family – in South Carolina, police say

A prominent Rock Hill, South Carolina, doctor, his wife and two grandchildren were among five victims in a shooting. (Photo: WSOC via Associated Press)

How did police respond at the scene?

Police found Robert and Barbara Lesslie and their two grandchildren dead in a room at the back of the house, York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said Thursday at a news conference.

Tolson said police found evidence at the scene that tied Adams to the shooting but would not elaborate. When authorities contacted Adams’ family, they found he lived nearby. Police evacuated some neighbors as they searched for the suspect with police dogs.

Neighbor Ashley Jackson, 17, said she came home Wednesday night to find law enforcement vehicles “swarming” outside the Adams house. She heard officers calling out to Phillip Adams for him to “come outside” and that they would take care of his mother.

Adams’ parents were evacuated from the home, and no shots were heard, Tolson said, but police found Adams dead inside of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

Two weapons were recovered: a 9mm handgun and a .45-caliber handgun.

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. (Photo: John D. Simmons/The Charlotte Observer via AP)

Who is the suspect, Phillip Adams?

Adams spent six seasons in the NFL with the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders and New York Jets before his career ended in 2015 with the Atlanta Falcons.

As a rookie in 2010, Adams suffered a severe ankle injury that required surgery, and in 2012, he had two concussions in a three-game period.

Adams’s behavior shifted abruptly a couple years ago, and he exhibited mental health issues as “mental health degraded fast and terribly bad,” his sister, Lauren Adams, told USA TODAY in an interview. She said he was going through a disability claim with the NFL and was feeling frustrated. He had been seeing doctors and recently moved in with his parents. 

“I know he had been applying for disability and he said they were making it hard for him. And toward the end he felt like they were trying to basically stiff him on money,” Lauren Adams said. “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.”

More on the suspect: Ex-NFL player Phillip Adams’ ‘mental health degraded fast and terribly bad,’ says sister

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 NFL and its former players over such injuries, because he hadn’t retired by 2014.

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