Ex-NFL player's brain to be probed for trauma-related harm

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FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2010 file photo, San Francisco 49ers cornerback Phillip Adams (35) sits on the sideline during the first quarter of an NFL football game in San Francisco. A source briefed on a mass killing in South Carolina says the gunman who killed multiple people, including a prominent doctor, was the former NFL pro. The source said that Adams shot himself to death early Thursday, April 8, 2021. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)

COLUMBIA, S.C. – The brain of Phillip Adams — the former NFL player who killed a South Carolina physician, three family members and a repairman before fatally shooting himself — will be tested for a degenerative disease that has affected a number of pro athletes and has been shown to cause violent mood swings and other cognitive disorders, according to the local coroner.

York County Coroner Sabrina Gast said in a statement issued on Friday that she had gotten approval from Adams' family for the procedure to be included as part of his autopsy, which will be performed at the Medical University of South Carolina. The hospital will be working with Boston University, whose chronic traumatic encephalopathy center conducts research on the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in athletes and military personnel, according to its website.

According to police, Adams went to the home of Robert and Barbara Lesslie on Wednesday and shot and killed them, two of their grandchildren, 9-year-old Adah Lesslie and 5-year-old Noah Lesslie, and James Lewis, a 38-year-old air conditioning technician from Gaston who was doing work there. He also shot Lewis’ colleague, 38-year-old Robert Shook, of Cherryville, North Carolina, who was flown to a Charlotte hospital, where he was in critical condition “fighting hard for his life,” said a cousin, Heather Smith Thompson.

York County Sheriff Kevin Tolson said investigators hadn’t figured out why Adams carried out the attack.

Tolson said evidence left at the shooting scene led investigators to Adams as a suspect. He said they went to Adams’ parents’ home, evacuated them and then tried to persuade Adams to come out. Eventually, they found him dead of a single gunshot wound to the head in a bedroom, he said.

A person briefed on the investigation who spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly said Robert Lesslie had treated Adams, who lived with his parents not far from the Lesslies’ home.

Tolson would not confirm that Adams had been the doctor’s patient.

It will be months before results are available from the tests for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, which can only be diagnosed in an autopsy. The disorder has been found in former members of the military, football players and boxers and others who have been subjected to repeated head trauma. A recent study found signs of the disease in 110 of 111 NFL players whose brains were inspected.