Former NFL player who killed 6 in Rock Hill suffered from Stage 2 CTE, officials say

YORK COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) – Phillip Adams, the former NFL player who authorities say shot and killed six people in York County before taking his own life, suffered from Stage 2 chronic traumatic encephalopathy, otherwise known as CTE.

That was the announcement made Tuesday during a press conference held by the York County Coroner’s Office.

Dr. Ann McKee, from the Boston University CTE Center, likened the damage in Adams’ brain to that of Aaron Hernandez, the former NFL star who was found hanging in his prison cell in an apparent suicide following his conviction for the 2013 murder of Odin Lloyd.

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McKee said ‘definitively’ that Adams’ 20 years of playing football gave rise to CTE.

McKee says the National Football League (NFL) needs to step up their efforts—not only to help prevent CTE and track it but also to get provide treatment to those former players living with it.

“That is usually beyond the ability of people who are impaired. If they don’t have an advocate that is recognizing these issues they fall through the crack,” she says.

The ultimate help, to McKee, is finding the key to identifying CTE while the person is still alive so they can get help sooner rather than potentially never.

”That will completely change everything we know about this disease,” she says.

According to the York County Sheriff’s Office, Adams killed Dr. Robert Lesslie, his wife Barbara, two of their grandchildren, and two HVAC workers who happened to be at the Lesslies’ home in Rock Hill back in April.

“As we process these results, we are deeply saddened by the events that occurred on April 7 and we continue to pray for the families of the victims,” Adams’ family said in a statement. “We are pleased to have a better understanding of the mental turmoil that Phillip was dealing with during the last moments of his life. We cannot say that we are surprised by these results; however it is shocking to hear how severe his condition was.”

A statement read Tuesday from the Lesslie family stated they are still grieving, but have had some hope from the CTE study.

“We are finding some comfort in the CTE results and the explanation they provide to the irrational behaviors pertaining to this tragedy,” read the statement.

Health officials said Adams suffered from memory issues, had difficulty sleeping and endured pain from his injuries. They noted there are four stages of CTE, and the disease gets worse with age. His family also noticed some of these issues. They say their son tried to get help many times with the NFL, but was denied. WBTV reached out to the NFL for comment, but have yet to hear anything.

According to the presentation, the team at Boston University has seen 315 former NFL players with CTE, a disease that can only be diagnosed after death. Of that number, 24 died in their 20s and 30s, they said.

McKee said Adams had an extraordinary amount of CTE pathology in the frontal lobe, which is the area of the brain behind the forehead.

“Frontal lobe damage is associated with violent, impulsive or explosive behavior, a ‘short fuse,’ and lack of self-control,” McKee said.

According to McKee, Adams lived largely by himself and his symptoms of CTE may not have been recognized.

Investigators said during Tuesday’s briefing that there is no indication why Adams targeted the Lesslie family. The family and Adams lived close by, but that’s the only connection that’s been discovered.

They added there was no documentation that Adams was a patient of Dr. Lesslie and it appears more like a crime of proximity.

In a statement, the Lesslie family said the last eight months have been “unimaginably difficult” and that they have found some comfort in the CTE results and the explanation provided “for the irrational behaviors pertaining to this tragedy.”

“We are grateful for all those who are working to continue to shine a light on anything that can help prevent this kind of nightmare from happening to other families,” the statement read in part.

The investigation into the shootings from the York County Sheriff’s Office continues, including Adams’ notebook. Search warrants say there were incoherent texts and possible codes written by Adams. Sheriff Kevin Tolson says that book is with the FBI’s Behavioral Unit getting evaluated.

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