Former NFL star Phillip Adams, who was responsible for a violent gun rampage which killed six people in April, was suffering from severe brain trauma often linked to a career on the football field, according to a neuropathologist.
Defensive back Adams, who spent six seasons in the NFL with a variety of teams and had no previous criminal record, shot five people to death at a house in Rock Hill, South Carolina as well as fatally injuring a sixth who died several hours later.
The victims included a well-known local doctor, his wife and their two children aged nine and five, as well as two people who were working on the house where the attacks occurred.
He turned the gun on himself the next day, having barricaded himself inside his home after his mother had been safely removed from the residence. Police later said they attempted to make contact with him via loudspeaker as well as sending a robot into the house in an attempt to persuade him to exit safely.
The surviving family of Dr. Robert Lesslie, the neighbor who Phillip Adams killed, said they take 'comfort' in the diagnosis. Lesslie was shot dead along with his wife Barbara and two of their grandchildren on April 8 #PhillipAdams #CTE pic.twitter.com/odIcnUG9O5
— Jen Smith (@Jen_e_Smith) December 14, 2021
Adams’ father, Alonzo, later said that his time in football, which also included a collegiate career with the South Carolina State Bulldogs, had “messed him up” and likely played a role in the killings – an assertion backed by a post-mortem study of his brain tissue showing that he was suffering from an “unusually severe” case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of brain trauma which is linked to repeated concussions and blows to the head and has been cited in several other fatal incidents involving former NFL players.
Announcing the findings of a study in Adams’ case, neuropathologist Ann McKee, who serves as director of Boston University CTE Center, said that Adams has significant damage to his frontal lobe.
She added that the damage to Adams’ brain was similar to that of former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez, who was convicted of murder in 2015 and killed himself in 2017.
Boston University doctor who studied former NFL player Phillip Adams’ brain says he had Stage 2 CTE, doctor says Adams’ football career put him at high risk for CTE, Adams killed 6 people in York County in April and then killed himself @FOX46News pic.twitter.com/VgnBOOBCPa
— Robin Kanady (@RobinFox46) December 14, 2021
CTE has been repeatedly linked to unusual behavioral and mood changes in its sufferers.
“We have seen this behavior [in other examples],” said McKee. “We have even seen homicidal behavior in other individuals diagnosed with CTE.
“It’s difficult to say that it alone resulted in these behaviors because usually it’s a complicated issue with many other factors.
“But certainly we have seen this behavior and it is, in fact, not what I would consider unusual in this disease.”
Adams, she said, was experiencing stage 2 CTE, with stage 4 being the the most severe diagnosis of the disease, a determination which was made after his family donated his brain for study in the wake of his murder-suicide. CTE can only be diagnosed after death.
Adams’ sister, Lauren, had also told USA Today that the 32-year-old’s mental health and overall wellbeing had deteriorated significantly in the period before his death.
“His mental health degraded fast and [became] terribly bad,” Lauren Adams said shortly after the shootings. “There was unusual behavior. I’m not going to get into all that.
“We definitely did notice signs of mental illness that were extremely concerning, that was not like we had ever seen. He wasn’t a monster. He was struggling with his mental health.”
Four years ago, the Boston University CTE Center stated that 110 of 111 studies into deceased NFL players showed that they were suffering from the degenerative brain disorder.