BRANDON — Not long after midnight, a fire started at 101 Foxwood Drive. Flames shot through the roof and smoke filled the house.
Linda Morgan, 62, and fiancé Elmer Morales, 60, were asleep but woke up and escaped. They stood outside as firefighters arrived. Neighbors gathered. Everyone seemed safe.
What no one there knew: Left behind, inside a bedroom, were 2-year-old twin boys.
Firefighters making routine room searches as they fought the flames discovered the bodies.
Rishaw and Richie Edwards, Morgan's grandnephews, had been asleep in a bed. They were rushed to hospitals but pronounced dead about 1:30 a.m. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office determined they died from smoke inhalation.
Their 19-year-old mother, Jaimey Sims, had arrived at the home with the sleeping boys around 10:30 p.m., when Morgan and Morales were already in bed.
While there, she got a phone call from a friend and decided to go out to a club on Busch Boulevard, according to a medical examiner's report.
She placed the sleeping children in a back bedroom and left around 11:45 p.m. She didn't tell her aunt the children were home.
Not quite an hour later, Morgan had to call her niece on her cell phone with the news.
Neighbors Maxine and Jerry Cockerill saw Sims return.
"As soon as she got here, she said, 'Where are they?' " Maxine Cockerill said. "I think she was in shock."
The state Fire Marshal's Office was investigating the fire, "but there's no indication of foul play," said Anna Alexopoulos, a spokeswoman for the agency.
Officials would not describe possible causes, but the medical examiner's report notes Sims took a shower and hung a damp towel over a lamp to dry.
The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office is also investigating the deaths. No charges were announced. Spokeswoman Debbie Carter characterized the case as "a tragic accident."
James Sims, Jaimey's father, said she was so distraught she could not talk about it.
"She's just broken, broken in pieces," he said. "Her life was them. I really am scared for her."
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Jaimey Sims, who attended Hillsborough High School but dropped out after getting pregnant, works as a cashier at the Tampa Yacht and Country Club, her father said.
That's where both her father and Morgan work. It's also where she met Richard Edwards Jr., a waiter at the club who is the father of the twins.
Edwards said he and Sims dated for about a year. They are no longer together but worked out an agreement that had most recently allowed him to see the children three times a week.
Jaimey Sims had recently started taking classes to earn her GED so she could study to become a nurse, her father said. She had also landed a second job at a 7-Eleven convenience store.
Because she couldn't afford day care, she routinely shuttled the children between her aunt's home in Brandon and her mother's home in Tampa, her father said.
He said it was not unusual for her to stay at her aunt's house.
When she got pregnant, her father said, Jaimey Sims was given the choice of having the baby or not. He said she didn't hesitate. And when she learned she would have twins, she was thrilled.
"When she had two, her life just started," James Sims said. "I think it just ended last night."
Edwards, who lives with his father in Tampa, said he woke to a call on his cell phone at 2:30 a.m. Thursday. He couldn't get to the phone in time, but heard his father, who got the second call.
"He was saying, 'No! No! No!' "
Edwards had just seen his sons Tuesday, he said. They played on the slides at the park. They loved to ride a scooter around their grandfather's carport and flirt with girls of any age.
Even though the boys were young, their personalities were starting to show. Edwards said Richie liked attention while Rishaw could play on his own.
Or as James Sims put it: "One would talk up a storm, the other worked with his hands. Richie, he was a canary. Rishaw, he was the easygoing one."
Edwards said he's in the dark over what happened but is angry the children were left.
"What'd she have to do that was so important that she left the kids there?" asked Edwards, who was ordered last year to pay child support.
Department of Children and Families spokesman Terry Field said in an e-mail that the Sheriff's Office investigated a report about Jaimey Sims in February.
"I cannot provide any specifics other than to state that the allegations were not substantiated," he said. The department has no other reports on Sims.
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Morgan told investigators her home had two smoke alarms. Authorities found one, but it didn't have batteries. They never found the second; it possibly was consumed in the fire. Authorities did not know how the couple woke up in time.
Firefighters wouldn't have acted differently had they known children were inside, said Hillsborough Fire Rescue spokesman Ray Yeakley. Rescuers search rooms even when told they are empty, he said, because fires are sometimes set to cover up crimes.
The difference might have been made in the first few minutes, he said. Had the aunt and her fiancé known they were inside, he said, they could have tried to take the toddlers out with them.
An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect age for Linda Morgan.
Times researchers John Martin and Carolyn Edds and staff writers Stephanie Wang and Amy Scherzer contributed to this report.