A shocked South Carolina community was grieving and looking for answers Thursday after officials said a beloved doctor and four other people were shot and killed by a man who had gone from a local high school on to college and the NFL.
York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said that on Wednesday afternoon Phillip Adams, 32, shot two air conditioning technicians outside — killing one — then forced his way into Dr. Robert Lesslie’s home in Rock Hill.
Lesslie, his wife, Barbara Lesslie, and two grandchildren, ages 5 and 9, were found shot to death in a back room.
Air conditioning technician James Lewis, of Gastonia, North Carolina, was found dead outside. The surviving technician — who contacted his employer and said he’d been shot, moving the employer to call 911 — was in critical condition at a hospital, Tolson said at a Thursday news conference.
Adams was later found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the bedroom of a home about a half mile away that he shared with his parents.
Tolson said it was unclear why Adams took two guns to the Lesslie property in Rock Hill, a city of 74,000 residents just across the border from Charlotte, North Carolina.
“There’s nothing about this right now that makes sense to any of us,” the sheriff said.
A statement from the doctor’s four children said the family is dealing with unimaginable loss.
“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,” the statement says.
Lesslie was a “pillar in the community,” Tolson said of the doctor, who served as Winthrop University’s supervising physician and medical director, and founded a hospice service and a house-call doctors’ service.
“He treated me in the past at his clinic. … he knew everyone, he treated everyone with respect,” Tolson recalled.
Winthrop University President George Hynd said Lesslie’s contributions to the school were wide-ranging.
“Students, in particular, have long benefitted from referrals to his practice when additional care was needed beyond our scope,” Hynd said in a statement. “I personally will be forever grateful to him for the advice and counsel he provided to our COVID-19 response team as we opened the campus last fall to residential living and learning.”
Many questions, few answers
Investigators do not yet know what led to the shootings, though they believe Adams was the only assailant, Tolson said.
“We probably have more questions than you do about this case,” the sheriff told reporters Thursday.
Something that Adams left at the home led investigators to believe he was the gunman, and they went to the nearby Adams family home, Tolson said.
Officers removed the parents from the home, and tried to contact Adams. They eventually found him deceased, Tolson said, though they did not hear gunshots.
Adams died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said.
When asked whether Adams, who played in the NFL from 2010 to 2015, was a patient of the doctor, Tolson said: “We have not been able to verify that.”
Adams played for several NFL teams
A South Carolina state official confirmed to CNN Thursday that Adams played in the NFL.
Adams played as a defensive back from 2010 to 2015 for teams including the San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets and Atlanta Falcons.
He had five interceptions and 121 tackles in 78 games, according to NFL.com. He also returned 37 punts while with the Raiders and 49ers.
Adams played at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg before his NFL days. His hometown was Rock Hill and he went to Rock Hill High School, according to a SCSU athletics media guide.
Authorities were called around 4:45 p.m. to the Lesslies’ home just south of Rock Hill, Tolson said.
Tolson played two 911 calls for reporters at a news conference Thursday. In one, the air conditioning technicians’ employer tells a 911 operator that an injured worker had just called him about the shooting.
“(The worker was) screaming that he had been shot, and the other technician … had been shot and was non-responsive,” the caller tells the 911 operator.
In the other call, a man tells an operator he was mowing grass when he heard popping noises.
He says he went over to the Lesslie’s property and from a distance saw one man lying on the ground and that’s when he realized he had heard gunfire.
The caller says he saw a man in black clothes walk out of the house.
While the witness said he might have heard about 20 shots, the sheriff only confirmed there were “multiple shots.”
Doctor had been practicing in area since 1981
Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted his condolences to the victims.
“Tragic and heartbreaking news from Rock Hill this morning. Please join @1stLadySC and I in lifting up the Lesslie family in prayer during this difficult time,” the tweet read.
Trent Faris, the York County Sheriff’s Office’s spokesperson, said Thursday he knew Lesslie, and that “Dr. Lesslie was my doctor growing up.”
“Dr. Lesslie has been one of those people that everybody knows. He started Riverview Medical Center in Rock Hill and it has been a staple in Rock Hill for years,” Faris said.
“If you are from Rock Hill and you are from around this area, the people who are involved are very prominent and very well known in York County,” Faris said.
Lesslie was the founder of Riverview House Calls and Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care, according to the services’ joint website, and had been practicing in Rock Hill since 1981. In a personal bio page, Lesslie says he and his wife had been married for 40 years, raised four children and had nine grandchildren.
“In my spare time, I enjoy writing, golf, hunting, growing fruit and hops, and bagpiping,” the bio page says.
His website lists several books he authored, including 2008’s “Angels in the ER,” a book about faith in God and the work of nurses, doctors and others during trying circumstances during his years working in an emergency room.
“I’ve been an observer of human condition as well as a physician. There’s no better place to be an observer than the ER,” he told The Herald of Rock Hill about the book in 2008. “You find out what people are about. Everybody has something to teach us. I wanted to do this from a spiritual perspective. Once that became clear to me, it wrote itself.”