Brain of ex-NFL player accused in S.C. killings to be examined for damage

Published: Apr. 11, 2021 at 11:49 AM EDT
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YORK COUNTY, S.C. - The brain of the former NFL player who killed five people in South Carolina before fatally shooting himself will be tested for a degenerative disease that has affected a number of professional athletes.

Chronic traumatic encephalopathy has been shown to cause violent mood swings and other cognitive disorders.

York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said in a statement issued Friday that she had gotten approval from Phillip Adams’ family for the procedure to be included as part of his autopsy.

The Medical University of South Carolina will conduct the examination to search for signs of CTE.

Adams died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, York County deputies said, but left information at the scene and they were able to identify him.

The shooting happened just before 5 p.m. Wednesday at the home of Dr. Robert Lesslie. Lesslie, 70, his 69-year-old wife, Barbara; their grandchildren Adah Lesslie and Noah Lesslie, were killed in the shooting. The grandchildren lived on the property with their parents, Lesslie’s son and daughter-in-law.

A fifth victim, 38-year-old James Lewis, from Gaston County, was working at the home when he was also shot to death, the York County Coroner’s Office confirmed.

A sixth victim, identified as Robert Shook, was wounded and taken to the hospital for treatment. Shook’s family said he was able to call for help and has undergone multiple surgeries.

Adams’ father, Alonzo Adams, said in an interview he believed football may have harmed his son.

“He was a good kid, he was a good kid. I think the football messed him up. You know, I don’t think he ever did anybody any harm,” Alonzo said.

He later revealed at Dr. Robert Lesslie used to be his physician a long time ago. He said the doctor and his family were good people and he had no idea what could have happened to cause this chain of events.

U.S. Sen. Ralph Norman, who represents South Carolina’s Fifth Congressional District that includes the Rock Hill area where the shooting happened, said this week he had been told by law enforcement that Lesslie was treating Adams but had stopped giving Adams medication, which may have triggered the killings.

Norman said in a statement on his website that the Lesslies were close friends.

“Through the decades, they made such an incredible impact on our area and the lives of countless people – more than they could have ever known,” Norman said in part. “There is a huge hole in our hearts this morning. Though we are overwhelmed with sadness and confusion, I thank God for the blessing of Robert and Barbara’s friendship, and what their family has meant to so many people throughout our community.”

For the examination, MUSC will be working with Boston University, which has a CTE Center. According to its website, the center conducts research on the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in athletes and military personnel.

Copyright 2021 WCSC/WBTV. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.