Former NFL Player Who Shot And Killed 6 Had 'Severe' CTE, Doctors Say

Phillip Adams allegedly entered a South Carolina home in April and opened fire, killing six people, including two children.
In this Dec. 26, 2010, file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams is attended to after injuring his left leg during a game against the St. Louis Rams, in St. Louis.
In this Dec. 26, 2010, file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams is attended to after injuring his left leg during a game against the St. Louis Rams, in St. Louis.
AP Photo/Tom Gannam, File

Phillip Adams, the former NFL player accused of shooting and killing six people in Rock Hill, South Carolina, before turning the gun on himself, had “unusually severe” CTE, a Boston University researcher said Tuesday.

A posthumous examination of Adams’ brain conducted by Dr. Ann McKee, the director of BU’s CTE Center, found stage 2 CTE in both frontal lobes of his brain. Adams was just 32 at the time of his death.

The degenerative brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy is closely associated with repeated head trauma. Both its risk and severity increases with the number of years spent playing football, a 2019 Boston University study found.

A person with stage 2 CTE, as Adams had, would experience aggression, impulsivity, depression, paranoia, anxiety, poor executive function and memory loss, McKee said.

Adams spent 20 years playing football, including six years in the NFL, where he played cornerback for five different teams, most recently the Atlanta Falcons, before his football career ended in 2015. He suffered a severe ankle injury in 2010, and in 2012, had two concussions over three games while playing for the Raiders.

In early April of this year, Adams entered the house of a South Carolina family and opened fire, killing Rock Hill physician Robert Lesslie; his wife, Barbara; two of their grandchildren, 9-year-old Adah Lesslie and 5-year-old Noah Lesslie; Robert Shook, an air conditioning technician who was working at the house; and another air conditioning technician, James Lewis.

“We have seen this behavior. We have even seen homicidal behavior in individuals diagnosed with CTE. It is difficult to say that it alone resulted in these behaviors, because usually it’s a complicated issue with many other factors,” McKee said. “It is in fact not what I would consider unusual in this disease.”

Adams’ family said he had sought assistance from the NFL as his condition worsened, but his applications were denied as he repeatedly proved unable to complete the tasks required to complete them.

“We cannot say that we are surprised by these results, however it is shocking to hear how severe his condition was,” Adams’ family said in a statement. “After going through medical records from his football career, we do know that he was desperately seeking help from the NFL but was denied all claims due to his inability to remember things and to handle seemingly simple tasks such as traveling hours away to see doctors and going through extensive evaluations.”

McKee said Adams’ pathology compares similarly to former NFL player Aaron Hernandez, who was also diagnosed with extremely advanced CTE. Hernandez died of apparent suicide in 2017 while serving a life sentence for homicide.

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