ROCK HILL, S.C. – Robert Lesslie loved to play the bagpipes. He loved practicing medicine, his community, his faith, his wife Barbara and their large family. Barbara Lesslie loved her husband, her church, led Bible studies, sang hymns, and cared for children with disabilities at Camp Joy. They all loved their grandchildren, including Adah and Noah, and took pride in the warmth the two children regularly showed to others. Adah Lesslie loved books, she loved to sing, handmade cards and hugs. Noah Lesslie was so fond of physical comedy and horses that he often asked if he could someday ride a horse in heaven, especially Artax out the never ending Story.
In his memorial service for the lessons last week, Rev. Dr. J. Barry Dagenhart, it is important to remember these things when we are grieving because when we grieve in this way we make hope a living cause. And, Dagenhart told the audience, hope will be especially important as, in the months and years to come, we grapple with the question of why something so terrible has happened to them, although ultimately it will not change the reality of the tragedy.
On April 7, a former NFL soccer player, Phillip Adams, emerged from the woods behind the Lesslies property in Rock Hill with two handguns – 45 and 9 mm caliber – and opened fire. He shot Robert (70), Barbara (69), Adah (9) and Noah (5). He also shot and killed two air conditioning repair workers, James Lewis and Robert Shook, 38, who worked the house before Adams fled to another location where police said Adams shot himself after a standoff. He was 32 years old.
There is no known motive, and the connection between Adams and the Lesslies, if any before April 7, is also unknown. The police report should shed new light on what happened and why, but added some details when it was released last Friday. A community in which the Lesslies were loved for their generosity, their charity and their connection to their church remains shaken. Lesslie was director of the emergency department at Piedmont Medical Center, Rock Hill General Hospital, for nearly 15 years and had founded two emergency clinics. During his time there, he had treated many people at Rock Hill, including Adams’ own father.
“They were such peaceful, good people,” said Ralph Norman, a congressman who represents Rock Hill. “”[Robert] treated everyone in town at some point. … His wife and my wife were in a vocal trio that sang at different events and we went skiing and were in the same church for a long time. They were some of our best friends. It’s just terrible, unbelievable. “
Adam’s friends and family also grieve, grappling with memories of the person they thought they knew and the reality of the monstrous deeds he did. “I just can’t understand it,” said Kevin Smith, a three-time Super Bowl winner for the Cowboys, who was a mentor and friend of Adams throughout his career. “I don’t know what the situation was like, but I can’t imagine him shooting children.”
In the absence of answers, people who knew Adams can’t help but ponder the inevitable question: Was he suffering from any form of mental illness that may have been started by collisions and concussions during his football career? His father, Alonzo, gave Charlotte TVN WC-TV a short interview after filming, in which he pointed out, “I can say he’s a good kid – he was a good kid and I think football has him mixed up.”
The family has made few public statements since, but agreed during the autopsy that his brain should be sent to the Boston University Center for Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy further study. Adams’ sister Lauren declined to comment on ESPN until BU’s CTE results are back. “Right now we’re just trying to grieve and wrap our heads around everything,” she said.
Even these efforts are unlikely to provide definitive answers. By doing last research from the BU’s CTE CenterResearchers found CTE in the brains of 223 out of 266 amateur and professional soccer players they studied. However, no link has ever been established between CTE and violence.
So much is known about Adams, however: the local highlight had always been a quiet introvert who could be hard to find. After his football career ended in 2015, he’d been doing volunteer coaching at a nearby high school for the past few years, trying to start a health food store with a friend. But over the past year, up to 18 months, family members found it increasingly difficult to find him and get in touch with him.
Adams’ longtime agent, Scott Casterline, said he couldn’t help but feel a little haunted by a missed call the morning of the shooting, and wondered if there was anything he could have done to prevent the situation. There is a mixture of guilt and sadness in his voice when he speaks. “Philip’s father called me and it went straight to voicemail,” said Casterline. “I didn’t realize it. I think it was just before all of this happened. His tone was normal. It was like, ‘Hey Scott, that Alonzo, I’m just trying to get in touch with you to talk a little about Phillip talk. ‘And it wasn’t alarming or like, “Hey man, Phillip is in trouble.” It was normal because Phillip was a loner. Even when he was playing, he was really private. He was hard to reach when he wasn’t wanted to talk to his parents, to me, to everyone. “
ADAMS ‘WAY for the NFL has for years been viewed as a small piece of a soccer pipeline emerging from Rock Hill, a sleepy bed-sharing community 25 miles south of Charlotte that manages to produce an inordinate number of talented soccer players. Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore and Cordarrelle Patterson are among those the city has sent to the NFL in recent years, inspiring a local sports editor to name the city of 75,000 “Football City, USA”.
Adams wasn’t a star at Clowney’s level, but he was known for his athletic prowess. He won a state championship in soccer and basketball from Rock Hill High School and received a scholarship to the state of South Carolina. His classmates called him “Fresh” because he was always so sharply dressed and well-groomed. “His entire family is very naturally gifted,” said Lawrence “Snoop” Brown, one of Adams’ high school teammates. “His brother was an All-ACC wrestler. His sister played volleyball and basketball. And Phillip was no different. Always a very good athlete. He was always super talented from the start.”
According to Casterline, Adams spoke sparingly about his childhood in Rock Hill, but when he did he usually described it as a happy time in his life. His father, Alonzo, worked as a truck driver who usually limited his work to local routes so that he didn’t have to spend nights away from his family. Sometimes Phillip, the youngest of three children, accompanied him on trips. His mother Phyllis worked as an educator in the Rock Hill school system for many years until she was involved in a serious car accident in 2009 that left her paralyzed. A community fundraiser earned her more than $ 15,000 after the accident.
Adams was in college at the time and said it wasn’t until he and his mother prayed together in the hospital that he decided to keep playing soccer. It should be part of his motivation to make it to the NFL. “That just makes you appreciate the people in your life,” Adams told a reporter in 2010, discussing his mother’s accident. “It makes you not worry about material things. It brings you closer to God. It did it for me. It helped me in that aspect. It made me work harder. It can make you either changing for the worst or for the best. Because of my family and the strength I have, it has changed me for the best. “
Adams was an outstanding cornerback and punt returner in the US state of South Carolina who was responsible for running the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference as a junior and received the award for all first-team conferences as a senior in 2009. But an NFL career wasn’t a surefire thing. No South Carolina state player had been drafted in a decade. A friend put Adams in touch with Casterline prior to the NFL draft, and the two of them clicked on the phone in a brief chat. Adams moved to Dallas to train in hopes of improving his design inventory, mostly through working with Smith, a key member of the Dallas Dynasty. “He was just a young, quiet kid, and he wanted all the information,” said Smith. “I looked at him a bit. He overworked. It was an information overload. He studied it, he dreamed it. It was a long shot from the state of South Carolina, but he had the talent. I told him,” ‘Man, you’ve got something.’ “
It didn’t take Adams and Casterline long to develop a bond that went beyond a professional relationship. “Phillip was like a little brother to me,” said Casterline. “At first I took him to a hotel, but then I said, ‘Why don’t you come to my house?’ I have a big house. He just started staying with me. We went out to eat and work out together. We even took jiu-jitsu together because we were in a class and I would be against him because we were both beginners. We were both very competitive. We just became really good friends over time. I wish I could have foreseen the future. I just can’t imagine him shooting anyone, especially two kids. It’s just not in his nature . “
Adams was drafted by the 49ers in the seventh round of the 2010 draft, but he managed to make the squad due to a relentless work ethic and willingness to play special teams. However, in a game against the Rams late that year, Adams suffered a compound ankle fracture on the field, an injury that required emergency surgery and screws in his leg, and turned his football career into a nomadic existence. For the rest of his time in the NFL, he was a fringe roster, moving from town to town, barely making it from week to week with little to no job security. Even so, Adams was better than most, and has had a six-year career that grossed him more than $ 3.6 million.
The Patriots signed him in 2011 but they ultimately cut him three times in the same season. He spent two full seasons with the Raiders and even cracked the starting line-up for four games in two seasons, but that too ended unceremoniously due to injuries. During his time with the Raiders, he suffered two concussions within a short period of time. “I remember one of them was really bad,” said Casterline.
Adams had a year with the Jets and Falcons, but he could never get away from being considered a fringe NFL guy. “It has a lot to do with a player’s psyche,” said Casterline. “Every time he was released, I would pick him up and tell him, ‘Hey, we’ll find your place. Your time will come.’ But he kept jumping around. I know that frustrated him because he was such a competitor. He wanted to win and be great. “
Smith says he would travel to Atlanta a few times a year after Adams signed with the Falcons, mostly just to check in with his friend, and usually stay with Adams for a weekend. What he saw always confused him. “He would just want to see one movie,” said Smith. “That was it. He had a movie from every NFL recipient that he would face for the next year and he would sit there all day and watch that movie. I would tell him, ‘Phillip, you are overdoing it. You me can’t work out three times a day. You’re going to ruin your body. You have to preserve your body. The longer you are in the NFL, the more it comes down to maintaining your body and recovering. “But he was one of those who who wanted to marginalize it. He was all football. “
After Adams’ contract with the Falcons expired in 2015, the fires that burned him to hold onto an NFL career seemed to be subsiding. He returned to Rock Hill and began volunteering as a coach at Nation Ford High School in Fort Mill, SC. He told Casterline he felt important again, that he was going to make a difference. He told friends that he was also trying to be a present father to his young son, even though he and the boy’s mother were no longer involved.
Casterline received a call from the Colts during training camp in 2016 asking about Adam’s availability. They wanted to sign it, but they needed an answer immediately. A cornerback had been injured, they liked Adam’s experience and wanted him to fill it out, but only if Adams could be on a flight to Indianapolis that night. Casterline couldn’t reach Adams, which wasn’t unusual. Eventually Adams’s father contacted his daughter, and she found her brother at his old high school and called Casterline. “I said, ‘OK, your sister will take you to the airport now, we’ll send you clothes,'” said Casterline. “And he started to hesitate. ‘I don’t know,’ he said. It’s not like Phillip. But I think he had the experience of getting signed and cut so many times, canceled. It weighs on a player. He ended in order to.” After talking to him he went to the airport but he arrived late and missed the flight. That was it. The Colts moved on. You signed someone else. I could tell he wasn’t really interested anymore. “
ADAMS ‘FRIENDS Insist he wasn’t ashamed of how his NFL career ended, but it wasn’t a topic he liked to discuss either. When he decided to open a Rock Hill smoothie store dubbed “Fresh Life” in 2019, he refused to use his previous NFL career as part of marketing. He saw food as medicine, according to Tynetta Moore, a longtime friend who ran the business for Adams. He wanted to deliver healthy fruits and vegetables to a mostly black part of town that didn’t even have a grocery store.
He had big ideas for the community that didn’t include football. He talked about starting a podcast on wellness and mentoring to teach people a job like plumbing. His dream, he said to Moore, was to grow his own food one day. He had visions of her running the shop while he spent his days with a tractor. “He just wanted a very quiet life,” said Moore. “He wasn’t a flashy guy at all. When you bring up something about the NFL, he said, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’ It was like he wasn’t allowed to. ”
Adams’ ambitions clashed again with his reality, however. Moore says business was slow and there was no pedestrian traffic. The store closed, says Moore, even before COVID-19 hit and devastated small businesses. Outwardly, Adams tried to shake it off, but friends and family noticed small changes in his behavior. “I felt standoffishness, a kind of withdrawal, but nothing that crossed my mind and thought, ‘Oh, he’s depressed.’ ” Said Moore.
It became more and more difficult to get in touch with him. He had always enjoyed being alone, but it had moved on lately and worried his family and friends. He was arrested in 2016 for carrying a hidden weapon, but the charge has been dismissed. According to published reports, Adams had been convicted of suspension driving and lack of insurance in the days leading up to the shootings.
“He just did strange things,” said Aaron Neely, one of Adam’s cousins. “As if his thoughts weren’t right. He was doing strange things. As if he were driving a four-wheeler in the forest at night, with no lights. That’s dangerous. People would talk to him, he would look at you and not say anything. All kinds of things strange things. ”
According to Casterline, Adams called him in the fall of 2020 and asked if he could help him find a job. His agent was ready to help. “I said, ‘You’re moving to Texas, I’ll get you to work right away,'” said Casterline. “He said, ‘No, I can’t leave South Carolina.’ I accepted because of his son. “
Previously, in the fall of 2017, Smith had put Adams in touch with Paul Scott, a former NFL executive who now owns and runs Benefits Huddle, a small business he runs that helps NFL veterans submit the correct documentation to to be admitted out of the league for disability benefits. It’s a complicated, often frustrating process that Scott knows all too well because he used to work across the aisle declining benefit claims on behalf of the NFL. He has become an angel in the world of retired NFL players because he knows how the league thinks and can anticipate the red tape used to discourage or reject claims.
Adams was interested in applying but didn’t know where to start. “I think he wanted to claim the disability pension at the time, but if you are disabled, you have to have your team’s medical records to substantiate your claim,” said Scott. “He was having a hard time getting his records from teams.”
Scott called an executive he knew with the Raiders. He said he was busy but promised to get in touch with Adams in a few weeks. Scott exchanged emails with Adams a few weeks later, and Adams said he still had not received his records. Scott told him to keep trying. If he were approved for a disability on duty normally only granted to players who have sustained injuries on the field that required surgery (e.g. Adams’ compound ankle fracture), he would be entitled to at least $ 4,000 each Month. “I assumed he had the records or whatever,” said Scott. “I don’t like pushing these guys. I’m not like a salesman. In my experience, a lot of these guys get angry with me when I push them. I’ll remind them once and then when they get dressed.” I suppose they made up their minds to do something else or find someone to help them, whatever. “
At no point, Scott said, did Adams inquire about neurocognitive benefits. He just wanted to know how long it would be before he got a check if it was approved. “Usually what happens to these guys by the time they come over to me, they have already exhausted all of their friends and business associates,” said Scott. “They don’t want to apply for a disability, but this is their last chance. And when they’re lined up like this, they kind of feel desperate. They feel it. When they’re approved, great. Because they usually have it.” Some debts to get people to repay. But if they’re rejected, they have no other place to go. And there is nothing else out there for them because they have to wait a full year before they can apply again. “
When Scott saw the news of the shooting, the name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t place it properly. “I looked him up in my contacts and thought, ‘Yeah, I spoke to him before,'” said Scott. “He just never got through. I needed authorization. If he had returned authorization forms that I had sent him and some of the teams had sent him to send me the records, it might have been easier.” End of the handicap. I dont know. Maybe someone helped him. I dont know. “
ON APRIL 7thIn 2021, the York County Sheriff’s Department received an 911 call at 4:46 p.m. by an 80-year-old man who reported a “bad shooting” in his neighbor’s house on Marshall Road. This man said he was outside cutting his grass when he heard “about 20” gunshots. He had just seen someone he suspected was the shooter – a man in a black hoodie – running out of the house with something under his arm (the police would later add a break-in on the Adams indictment). There were at least two people in the yard who had been shot, he said, and probably more inside.
When officers arrived on site, one of the HVAC workers – Shook, a married father of three – was still alive and conscious despite wounds that would eventually kill him. Shook told officers that a black man in camouflage pants and a black sweatshirt had emerged from the woods outside the Lesslie house and had just started shooting. He went in, fired more shots, then left the house and disappeared into the same forest. Shook was rushed to the hospital but died three days later. James Lewis, a single father of three, was pronounced dead at the scene.
The police did not say how they identified Adams as a suspect. But the officers soon surrounded his parents’ house, just up the street from the Lesslie residence where he had barricaded himself. There was a stalemate of several hours in which the police finally got Adams to let his mother Phyllis get out safely, according to a neighbor. When the officers finally entered the house, they found Adams dead after a self-inflicted shot. “It’s disheartening to hear people call him a monster,” said Moore. “Don’t get me wrong. Nobody tries to excuse the deeds. It’s just the deeds that don’t suit the person we know.”
It is still unclear what kind of relationship, if any, Adams had with Lesslie. Norman gave an interview on April 8, the day after the shooting, in which he said police officers told him that Adams was a patient with Lesslie and was upset that Lesslie had stopped giving him medication. But law enforcement officers have never confirmed that, and Norman has since withdrawn his original testimony.
On April 15th, a small crowd gathered to say goodbye to Phillip Adams at the Robinson Funeral Home. The family previously held a private service and greeted the public to show their respect after they went home. The parking lot was mostly empty for an hour before a few mourners walked in. Family friend Kevin Davis, 54, was one of the first to arrive. “I didn’t really know Phillip,” he said. “I knew the grandmother and the father.” We were members of the Church. ”
Davis said the impact on the community has been harsh, especially for people like him, who also knew the Lesslie family. “It’s just all mixed up,” he said. “It’s strange for him to just go to this doctor’s house and do that.” It’s really hard. You are a great family. It is sad.”
Inside, Adams was in an open coffin. A large array of red and white roses was draped on the lower half of the coffin. Next to the coffin was a framed picture of Adams wearing his 2010 San Francisco 49ers # 35 uniform. Visitors were not allowed to linger or sit in the pews. They passed slowly and went through another side door. “The only one who can understand this is the gentleman above,” said one woman who guided visitors.
One of Adam’s cousins, who did not want to be identified, spoke softly to the feel of the room and for so many others who knew Adams. “None of us understand.”
AT THE LESS Family monument, Rev. Dagenhart made no attempt to explain the inexplicable. Instead, he told stories about the lessons, about how important their beliefs were to them. They regularly invited the entire church to picnics on their property. It was Robert Lesslie who, even before the recent racist unrest in America, encouraged the congregation to connect with a black church in town, Mount Prospect Baptist in Rock Hill.
For the past 20 years, they have volunteered for a week each year at Camp Joy, a place where teenagers and adults with disabilities retreated for a break in the mountains of North Carolina. Barbara led the Bible study and Robert served as camp doctor, but he threw himself into every activity he could: canoeing, horseback riding, playing the bagpipes. “You were encouraging,” said Dagenhart. “They would pray with you. They would try to improve a tense situation.”
So many mourners came to pay their respects to the Lesslies that the service was held in the cavernous West End Baptist Church instead of the First Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church of which the Lesslies were members. The building was full, the parking lot full an hour before the start. Dagenhart asked the ward to pray not only for the Lesslies, Shook and Lewis families, but also for Adams’ family members, a reminder that, hard as it was to understand, they had lost someone too. He asked the congregation to sing with him, “Under the Cross of Jesus,” a hymn that was special for the Lesslie family. It was Adah and Noah’s bedtime song.
“Why questions don’t have answers,” said Dagenhart. “But a question that we can ask and that we as believers can know. The question is, ‘Do I serve a Master whom I trust? Do I serve a Lord whom I can trust?’ If the answer is yes, then you can move on to the next step that you need to do. Keep doing the next step until the day is over. Trust everyone else. The next day starts all over. Time gives you the peace and strength you need. “
When the memorial ended, the Lesslies friends and loved ones slowly gathered their belongings and began to leave the church. As they were packing into delivery trucks outside, they all passed a man walking back and forth in the crowd, making bagpipe noises in the air.
This story was reported and written by ESPN’s Michael Fletcher, David Newton, and Kevin Van Valkenburg.