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Beloved doctor slain in South Carolina shooting remembered for deep involvement in community

Dr. Robert Lesslie, his wife and two grandchildren were gunned down by Phillip Adams, a former pro football player, authorities said.
Image: Dr. Robert Lesslie
Dr. Robert Lesslie in Rock Hill, S.C., on March 12, 2009.John D. Simmons / The Charlotte Observer via AP file

Friends of the South Carolina doctor who authorities said was killed, along with three family members, by a former pro football player recalled on Friday the physician's love of writing and passion for medicine and animals.

Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70; wife Barbara Lesslie, 69; grandchildren Adah Lesslie, 9, and Noah Lesslie, 5; and heating and air conditioning technician James Lewis, 38, were all gunned down Wednesday at the doctor's home in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Lesslie was the founder and medical director of Riverview House Calls and Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care, according to the company's website. He received his medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina and practiced in Rock Hill for 40 years, the website said.

He and his wife had four adult children and eight grandchildren.

The suspected killer, Phillip Adams, later died by apparent suicide, the sheriff's office said Thursday. Adams was a former pro football player, a journeyman cornerback who played six seasons in the NFL.

No motive was immediately known.

A prolific author

Lesslie was a prolific author who penned more than a dozen books about the intersection of medicine and faith.

Nancy B. Kennedy — whose book "Miracles & Moments of Grace: Inspiring Stories From Doctors" was published side by side with the doctor's "Miracles in the ER" — said she was "gutted" by the slaying, which she called "senseless" and "so evil."

Kennedy said she was always struck by Lesslie's ability to learn valuable life lessons from patients, no matter if they were one-time visits or he saw them over the course of long-time treatments.

"He thought deeply about these encounters that were sometimes just minutes long, and he drew such meaningful lessons from them," Kennedy told NBC News.

Another work of Lesslie's, volume two of "Angels in the ER," is set to be published in August.

As a younger author, Kennedy said she was always grateful for Lesslie's encouragement.

"The thing I remembered and appreciated is that here he was a better-known, much better-known author," she said. "He was so encouraging to me as a little-known author. He had no qualms about being paired with an unknown, so I just appreciated at the time his willingness for us to work together."

A community doctor with a love of animals

Lesslie also enjoyed treating creatures with more than two legs, keeping a mini zoo of "several miniature horses, goats, donkeys, chickens and a lot of bees" on his property, according to his Riverview Hospice and Palliative Care bio.

Charlotte Stephens, a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner at Spartanburg Medical Center, said she will always be grateful for Lesslie being one of her early mentors.

"He gave me my first (family nurse practitioner) job and believed in me," Stephens wrote in tribute to Lesslie. "Sadness and shock is pervasive."

Lesslie frequently organized fellow doctors and nurses to visit poorer communities that didn't have access to medical care, according to author Faith Hunter.

"Lesslie ... did not believe in mouthing off about things unless you did something about those beliefs. He was a doer," Hunter wrote in a tribute posted to Facebook on Friday. "He knew people in his community were underserved by the medical community when he led the way to outfit medical vans to take doctors and nurses to those in need. He helped establish and worked at the free clinic in his town."

Trent Faris, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office, said Thursday that Lesslie was his childhood doctor.

"A lot of people know Dr. Lesslie," Faris said. "This is a very tragic, tragic situation."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., offered his condolences to the loved ones and friends of the victims in Rock Hill and York County, where "the Lesslies were known as pillars of the community."

"We will continue to send our prayers to all those who have been impacted by this tragic event," the senator added.

Wilson Wong contributed.