TAMPA — It was 6:15 Monday morning and Ignacia Seija was getting ready for her job as an airport custodian.
Her two dogs started barking. Her husband saw two men in military uniforms approaching their West Tampa home.
"When I saw those two men, I knew it wasn't anything good," Ignacia Seija said in Spanish. "I knew my son had died."
Her son, Army Staff Sgt. Ricardo Seija, 31, was killed Sunday in a roadside bombing in Afghanistan.
It was the same attack, a family member said, that had killed Army Sgt. Clarence Williams III, 23, of Brooksville and four other Americans. They were riding in an armored vehicle in Wardak province, just south of Kabul, when an improvised explosive device went off.
The knock on the door of the West Tampa home was the second visit military officers had made early Monday to deliver grim news. At 5 a.m., officers told the Williams family that their son, a 2008 Hernando High grad who hoped to someday become a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, had died in the attack.
Williams and Seija became the 27th and 28th Tampa Bay area service members to have died in Afghanistan.
"I don't understand it," Ignacia Seija said Tuesday. "Why? Why? He was my baby."
A staff sergeant in the 978th military police company, Seija was the youngest of three sons of Ignacia and her husband, also named Ricardo.
The parents emigrated from Colombia, and the sons spent their childhoods in Chicago.
As children, the three would wrestle together, Ignacia Seija said. Ricardo became a high school wrestler.
The parents brought him to Tampa in the late 1990s, where he enrolled in Leto High School. He was quiet, but well-liked.
"The girls used to all chase him," his mother said.
He wasn't a great student, she said, but wasn't a bad one, either.
"He never got in trouble. He was respectful of everyone. He was very disciplined," Ignacia Seija said.
And Ricardo wanted to join the Army as soon as he graduated.
"It was his emotion," she said. "It was something he felt in his heart. He loved his country."
When he joined, mother and son had the first of many conversations in which she would tell him to be careful.
The Army sent him to Korea, Germany and Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, he met his first wife, Sgt. Jill Taylor.
He made a positive impression on his father-in-law, a tugboat captain from Bay St. Louis, Miss.
"I got the impression that he liked the toughness of his duty," said the father-in-law, Jim Taylor. "He was really enthusiastic about moving up in the ranks."
He described Seija as a quiet man who did his job and never complained.
Seija married Jill Taylor in 2003 and had a son — Little Ricky, Ignacia Seija calls him.
Seija and Taylor divorced in 2006. The 8-year-old boy lives in Missouri with his mother and grandmother, Jim Taylor said.
Seija recently remarried, said Ignacia Seija, who is a custodian at Tampa International Airport. He deployed to Afghanistan in March.
Taylor reached out to his ex-son-in-law recently and asked him to come home to be with Little Ricky, who had been getting in trouble in school.
"He applied for a hardship leave and was supposed to be home in a month," Taylor said. "It's a tragedy all the way around. At the very time when his son needed him the most, he was killed."
The staff sergeant and his mother would talk on the phone about once a week. He would ask about his older brothers in Chicago.
"He couldn't say anything about his work," she said, and that frustrated her. "It was like having your hands tied by your sides."
Be careful, she kept reminding him. Don't trust anybody. Not even little children.
Services will be held in Tampa, but details have not been announced.
Notice went out to Little Ricky in Missouri as well.
"The Army came to the house early Monday morning and told him his dad died," Jim Taylor said.
"They said he was a hero and he was no longer here, and that he was up in the sky."
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]