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Family of former NFL player who killed 6 people in Rock Hill sues college he attended

Alonzo Adams, the father of Phillip Adams, is suing the university his son attended. Phillip Adams played football there from 2006 to 2009.

ROCK HILL, S.C. — The father of a former NFL player who shot and killed six people in Rock Hill, then turned the gun on himself, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university his son attended.

Alonzo Adams, the father of the late Phillip Adams, filed the lawsuit in Orangeburg County court last week against South Carolina State University. In the lawsuit, Alonzo Adams alleges SC State's "negligence" in educating Phillip Adams on head trauma and for failing to provide better protections for players.

The suit states that head trauma led to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), and ultimately, Phillip Adams's death.

On April 7, 2021, Phillip Adams shot and killed Robert Lesslie, 70, his wife Barbara Lesslie, 69, and two of their grandchildren, Adah, 9, and Noah, 5, as well as two HVAC workers, James Lewis, 38, and Robert Shook, 38 in Rock Hill. Dr. Robert Lesslie was a prominent doctor in Rock Hill. He treated patients at Riverview Family Medicine & Urgent Care. 

Police say Phillip Adams took his own life as officers were closing in on him. 

Shortly after the killings, Alonzo Adams spoke with WCNC Charlotte and said he believed his son's career played a role in his downfall.

"I can say he's a good kid," Adams said at the time. "I think the football messed him up."

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Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist and expert on neurogenerative diseases at Boston University, said the former football player had severe CTE in both frontal lobes of his brain. Dr. Sabrina Gast, the York County coroner, said Adams' family told officials he had complained of excruciating pain, memory issues, and difficulty sleeping late in life.

Dr. David Geier, a sports medicine specialist, added that CTE is linked to repeated blows to the head.

“As long as it’s tackle football, that part of football is really hard to take out of the sport," Geier said. "You want to watch for changes in behavior, changes in mental status.”

RELATED: Remembering 6 killed in Rock Hill shooting, 2 years later

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Phillip Adams played football at SC State from 2006 to 2009. His family's lawsuit states his university's lack of education on head trauma, training employees on treating head injuries, and failure to keep players safe from head injuries, among other things, led to Adams's CTE issues.

Alonzo Adams states that because of these issues, SC State is responsible for Phillip Adams developing CTE and eventually taking his own life along with six other people.

The lawsuit also states Adams left behind a child, who has suffered mental shock and anguish because of his father's death. 

Alonzo Adams is seeking a jury trial and a sum of money to be determined by the court.

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WCNC Charlotte has reached out to the university for comment, and a spokesperson for SC State said the school does not comment on pending or current litigation.

The law firm representing Adams' estate told WCNC Charlotte they filed the suit at the request of the family "to ensure that any rights they may have would be protected." While the statute of limitations against SCSU expired on April 8, 2023, the attorneys said the hope was to both protect the family's interests and "bring attention to the health and safety of football players."

Phillip Adams, a Rock Hill native, played in the NFL for six seasons as a defensive back. He played for the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, and Atlanta Falcons from 2010 to 2015. He recorded five interceptions in his career.

Credit: AP
Atlanta Falcons defensive back Phillip Adams arrives for an NFL football game against the Tennessee Titans Sunday, Oct. 25, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

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