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. Tolson said the hospitalized victim was in “very critical” condition.
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.
“We did not hear any gunshots,” Tolson said. “We did try to negotiate and get him out of the room that he was in.”
Tolson said a .45-caliber and a 9 mm weapon were used in Wednesday’s shooting. The sheriff said authorities don’t have any indication the weapons were obtained illegally.
In Washington,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 32-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.
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 abetween 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.”
Deputies were called around 4:45 p.m. Wednesday to the Lesslies’ home, which is not visible from the road. They evacuated the neighbors as they spent hours searching for a suspect with police dogs.
Allison Hope, who lives across from the gunman’s parents’ modest one-story brick 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 the gunman, using a loudspeaker and sending in a robot to scan the house. She said authorities repeatedly asked the gunman to come out, and promised to get his disabled mother out safely, before the gunman shot himself.
“This is something I can’t grasp yet. I can’t put it all together and I’m trying to, and I witnessed it,” Hope said. “I feel bad for him because if it was mental or something going on in his life or whatever, you know, he needed help, and that’s the sad part.”
The gunman often isolated himself, even as a player, his agent, Scott Casterline, told the AP. Casterline said he spoke regularly with the gunman’s father, who left him a voicemail Wednesday morning.
“He was part of my family. I loved him. He’s a great kid, a great guy. This is so unlike him. He had to not be in his right mind, obviously,” Casterline said.
“All of us who knew Phillip are shaking our heads. 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 said.
Former Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith, who trained the gunman leading up to the 2010 draft and after he entered the league, said he was a hard worker. He and Casterline both said the gunman had opened a shop selling smoothies and juice before COVID-19 hit and emphasized he didn’t drink or do drugs.
“He didn’t drink not one bit of alcohol,” Smith said. “He was a bit of a neat freak. In his house, everything was precisely placed.”
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.