BROOKSVILLE — The last time Abrill Edwards spoke to her older brother, Clarence Williams III, he shared with her how Afghanistan had reaffirmed his strong Christian faith.
Williams, a 23-year-old Army soldier, was just two or three weeks away from the end of a six-month tour in the war-torn country.
"He told me how precious he knew life was, just being around a bunch of killing," Edwards, 22, recalled Tuesday. "He told me he read his Bible every day and he knew he was covered by God. He wasn't worried."
Hours later, Edwards, who lives in Orlando, got a call from her older sister, Samantha. She heard her mother, Talisa, screaming in the background.
Military officials had just visited their parents' ranch home off Yontz Road to inform them that Williams, a 2008 Hernando High School graduate, had been killed along with five other soldiers when their armored vehicle ran over a roadside bomb Sunday in Wardak province, just south of Kabul.
Coalition and Afghan forces are trying to secure areas of Wardak that insurgents use as a gateway to the Afghan capital, where they stage high-profile attacks on Afghan government and NATO targets.
As siblings growing up, Edwards said, she and her brother were like Frick and Frack. They graduated together at Hernando High. They were going to join the Army together, too, but Edwards changed her mind.
They called each other goofy names.
What's up, big head? Nothing, fat lip.
Sometimes, when he was bored, Williams suggested they take a drive up State Road 50. He would get behind the wheel and open up to his little sister, and she'd respond in kind.
I love you. You're like my best friend.
You're like my best friend, too. You are my best friend.
Now, Edwards is struggling with the reality that her brother, the middle child between, is never coming home to Brooksville.
There are moments when the tears come. Edwards recently learned that she is pregnant. When she told her brother, Williams said he knew he was going to have a nephew.
"He spoke as if he knew he wasn't going to be here," she said. "He said, 'You're going to say my brother told me you were going to have a boy.' "
The family's strong faith, Edwards said, is helping them cope. They know he's watching them.
"He's home," Edwards said as she stood in the shady front lawn of her parents' home, thunder booming overhead. "He's in heaven. That's better than this home."
Williams was an avid hog hunter and fisherman who was happiest in the woods or in the water. He played football at Hernando High and sang in the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Brooksville.
Their father, Clarence Williams Jr., is a corporal with the Florida Highway Patrol who served in the Army and still is a reservist. Williams wanted to follow in his father's footsteps, and to experience some adventure beyond Brooksville, so he enlisted in 2009 for five years, with plans to become a military police officer.
He had earned an associate's degree in criminal justice and wasn't sure whether he was going to re-enlist, but definitely wanted to continue his education, his sister said.
He last saw his family in December, and left for Afghanistan in February. The siblings spoke often by webcam or phone. Williams was able to wish his sister a happy Independence Day last week.
Edwards said the reality of her brother's death will sink in when she sees his body. His remains are expected to arrive at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa in the coming days, and he will be interred at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell. As of Tuesday, funeral plans had not been set. The parents declined to talk at this time.
"He's in my heart and my spirit," Edwards said. "We've got the same blood running through our veins. He's not going anywhere. He's still here with me."
Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.