Former NFL Player Phillip Adams, Who Fatally Shot 6 People and Himself, Had CTE

Former NFL player Phillip Adams suffered from CTE.

Dr. Anne McKee, the Boston University CTE Center neuropathologist and director who studied the 32-year-old’s brain, shared the information on Tuesday alongside York County coroner Sabrina Gast, USA Today reports.

In April, Adams fatally shot himself after killing Dr. Robert Lesslie, 70, his 69-year-old wife Barbara, and their grandchildren Noah and Adah, ages five and nine. Two men who were working at the doctor’s home, Robert Shook and James Lewis, both 38, were also gunned down. Dr. McKee said Adams was enduring “severe” frontal lobe damage due to CTE—or chronic traumatic encephalopathy—which is connected to concussions and continual head trauma from football or contact sports.

CTE can have an impact on a person’s behavior and mood changes, which is something Adams’ family noticed prior to the shootings, with sister Lauren telling USA Today his demeanor “shifted dramatically” over the last two years.

Dr. McKee backed up that claim, revealing that Adams had stage 2 CTE, with stage 4 being the most severe. “So we have seen this behavior. We have even seen homicidal behavior in other individuals diagnosed with CTE,” she said. “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 previously played for the San Francisco 49ers, New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, and Atlanta Falcons. He was 32 at the time of his death. Following the shooting, his family donated his brain to the Boston University CTE Center; CTE can only be diagnosed after someone passes away.

“His mental health degraded fast and terribly bad,” Lauren told the newspaper. “There was unusual behavior. I’m not going to get into all that (symptoms). We definitely did notice signs of mental illness that was extremely concerning, that was not like we had ever seen. … He wasn’t a monster. He was struggling with his mental health.’’ 

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