Mike Sgroi of Brick had just celebrated his 20th birthday and was starting a new year of classes at Ocean County College when his father, Thomas Sgroi, died on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Sunday night, while watching the Mets-Phillies game with friends, closure finally came for Mike Sgroi, now 29.
“I didn't understand, in that moment, what was happening,” he said, about 18 hours after learning that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, was dead. “Did he die? I knew he was on dialysis. Then we found out it was a military mission.”
“It was a big sense of relief,” said Sgroi, who still lives in Brick. “It can't undo anything, but you always hope the person responsible is brought to justice.”
Thomas Sgroi, 45, worked for Marsh & McLennan, a consulting firm with an office on the 95th floor of the World Trade Center. He was divorced from his wife, Laraine – the mother of Mike and his brother, Nicholas – and had recently moved to Staten Island from Brick.
“He loved his job,” Sgroi said. “For me, and him, it was exciting. He would take us to the city, and I remember going there and seeing his office. It was a great bunch of people."
When news first came down that the towers had been hit, there was confusion, but not necessarily panic. Mike thought his father would be OK. Then came the news that Thomas Sgroi was missing. Eventually, he was found and laid to rest, a small bit of consolation compared to families who would never get to bury their loved ones, Sgroi said.
“Because my parents were divorced, I was used to not seeing him on a day-to-day basis,” said Sgroi, who described his initial feeling as that of shock and disbelief. “That cushioned some of the blow, but I've always felt that the best thing you could do was to keep progressing, marching forward.”
And march forward he did. He said he continued on at OCC, then eventually graduated with a degree in television production from Monmouth University in 2007. These days, Sgroi makes a living producing television shows on a freelance basis, producing music for local artists and, of all career choices, sharpening his stand-up comedy skills.
His blossoming career in the entertainment world is a big step from the anxiety and depression he once dealt with both before and after his father’s death. His success, he said, is a testament to his father’s memory.
“You owe it to the person, especially my father, to just keep living your life,” Sgroi said.
Music – or, at least a hook in a Puff Daddy song from back in 2001 – has always made him feel better.
“I remember Puff Daddy would always say, 'and we won't stop, ‘cause we can't stop.' I've always kept that in my head,” Sgroi said. “Hip-hop music has always been for the underdog, and it kept me going as well.”
Now that bin Laden is dead, there’s an extra sense of relief, closure and patriotism in his mind, Sgroi said.
“It's a sense of closure, the first real relief in the past 10 years,” he said. “You hope this is the beginning of the end and the start of a new era.”
“With bin Laden being killed, it reminded me of, maybe, when Hitler died,” he said. “Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II, and I can imagine that's how people felt back then.”