Rock Hill community shares heartbreak after beloved doctor, family shot to death

Cailyn Derickson, Alex Zietlow, Michael Gordon
·4 min read
Dr. Robert Lesslie, in a 2009 file photo. Lesslie, his wife, two of their grandchildren, and a worker who was at the doctor’s Marshall Road home outside Rock Hill were all shot to death Wednesday, April 7, 2021.

It didn’t take long for word of the tragedy to spread quickly around the city of Rock Hill — there was a mass shooting that left five people dead, a sixth wounded.

Dr. Robert Lesslie, who had practiced medicine in York County for decades, and his family were shot at their home on Wednesday.

Lesslie, 70; his wife, Barbara Lesslie, 69; grandkids, Adah Lesslie, 9; and Noah Lesslie, 5, were killed, as was James Lewis, 39, of Gastonia, N.C., who was found dead outside the home. A sixth person was shot, and was airlifted to a Charlotte hospital; that person has not been identified.

Prominent Winthrop University professor Scott Huffmon sat in the barber chair in disbelief and spoke about what he’d heard Thursday morning. Then, his barber piped in, Huffmon said. He knew Lesslie, too.

“Some random mass shooting is, to many of us, simply a tragic story, and it’s one we see with a 10,000-foot view,” Huffmon said. “But we are standing in the midst of this tragedy.

“And because Dr. Lesslie — and that his whole family is prominent and involved in the community — there’s going to be no one in Rock Hill who’s not, at minimum, one or two degrees separated from someone whose life has just been flipped upside down,” Huffmon said.

Sources told The Herald Thursday morning that the alleged shooter was Phillip Adams, a former Rock Hill High School basketball and football player who was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in 2010.

York County Coroner Sabrina Gast confirmed that police found Adams dead Wednesday night from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“It’s just human nature when something this callous and evil happens to want to know why,” Huffmon, who runs the Winthrop Poll initiative, said. “And of course it’s going to be politicized. In fact, I know it already has been. It spurs the gun control debate. That’s just true of every tragedy...

“But when it’s this close to home, you know, seeing it politicized immediately is uncomfortable. But I think we all knew it was going to happen.”

‘Beloved’ colleagues

Lewis, 38, appears to have been doing heating-and-air conditioning work at the Lesslie home when he was fatally shot.

His employer, GSM Services of Gastonia, described Lewis and another unnamed company employee involved in the shooting as “longstanding, beloved members of our family at GSM.”

“These men embody the values we strive to achieve at GSM and are family-focused, upbeat and wonder team members who cared about all the people they encountered.”

Public records show Lewis came to the Charlotte-area from Flint, Mich., and that he formerly lived in Charlotte and Mount Holly.

2 homes, a mile apart

Officials have not said what the motive was in the case.

Thursday afternoon, two York County sheriff cars were stationed outside the Lesslie family home in Rock Hill, home, blocking multiple driveway entrances.

The home wasn’t visible from the street because the family’s yard extended for acres. A large wooden cross stood in the yard among several short trees, as if it protected the property.

Less than a mile down the road, news trucks swarmed Adams’ house. Three pollen-covered vehicles were parked in a line down the driveway. A basketball hoop stood over them.

SC politicians speak out

U.S. Rep. Ralph Norman, and his wife, Elaine, were close friends of the Lesslie family, the congressman said in a statement Thursday morning.

“I cannot begin to describe the heartache and pain Elaine and I are feeling this morning … To know the Lesslie family is to love them,” Norman said. “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 Lesslie and his wife, Barbara, had a tremendous impact on the Rock Hill area.

“There is a huge hole in our hearts this morning,” Norman said. “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.”

U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, on Twitter Thursday morning, called the mass shooting “very sad.”

“My deepest sympathies and prayers are with Dr. Lesslie’s family and the Rock Hill community,” Scott wrote.

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