GARY | A U.S. Army Ranger who spent his early years in Gary was killed in a firefight in Afghanistan.
Spc. Ricardo Cerros Jr., 24, of Salinas, Calif., died Saturday in Logar province of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Defense. He was on his first deployment to Afghanistan.
Cerros was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash.
The soldier spent most of his life in Salinas, Calif., with his father but lived in Gary until he was 5, according to cousin Melody Herrera, of Munster. His mother, Marguerite Cuevas, still lives in Gary's Brunswick neighborhood in her childhood home.
His father, Ricardo Cerros Sr., of Salinas, Calif., also is a native of Gary's Brunswick neighborhood. Herrera said many family members remain in the region.
Cerros' mother and uncle, Roy Cuevas, of Round Lake, Ill., were en route Monday afternoon to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to retrieve his body. While funeral plans are pending, family members said they believe Cerros may be buried in Gary with family.
"He was a great kid," Roy Cuevas said tearfully via cellphone Monday while on the road to Dover. "He had a strong, strong feeling to go to the military."
Cuevas said his nephew initially wanted to be a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps, but when those plans didn't work out, he joined the Army as a reconnaissance specialist.
Herrera said her cousin "was a very happy-go-lucky guy."
"Nothing got him down," she said. "He really wanted nothing more than to serve his country."
Herrera said she last saw Cerros in December when he returned to Gary just before his deployment. He was supposed to come to Gary again this year just before Christmas.
"He said he couldn't wait to come back," she said tearfully.
Herrera said Cerros' family briefly lived with her family when he was young.
His older brother, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Marco Cerros, is stationed in England, Herrera said. His father is retired from the U.S. Army.
"We're a big military family," she said.
Family members of others shot in the attack said five were hit and Cerros was the lone fatality. Those family members are hoping to attend funeral services on behalf of the soldiers in his unit who are unable to attend.
U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Ind., said in a statement he was, "deeply saddened" to learn of Cerros' death.
"My sympathy and condolences go out to Ricardo's family and friends in Gary and across the country during this difficult time," Visclosky said. "Ricardo is a true hero, and his sacrifice is a reminder of the eternal gratitude we owe to all of our troops who fight every day to protect our freedom."
Cerros' commander remembered him as a leader.
"Spc. Ricardo Cerros was incredibly talented and a well-respected member of this battalion," Lt. Col. David Hodne said in a statement released by the Army. "He was a warrior who lost his life while fighting courageously alongside his fellow Rangers. We will honor his service to our country and never forget his sacrifice. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Cerros family."
In addition to his parents and brother, Cerros is survived by his stepmother, Deborah Cerros, brother Nicholas Cerros and sister Theresa Cerros, all of Salinas, Calif.