Who Started It?

By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 13, 2005

Answers, closure, call it what you will, but it's what Tony Scrocca is looking for on this late October night just outside the University of Maryland football stadium. The compact man from Branchburg, N.J. -- in red polo shirt and blue shorts, oblivious to the nippy air -- stands at the student entrance and hands out fliers as fast as he can. He's desperately searching for anyone who knows anything about what happened early one rainy morning last spring, the day his son died in a fire.

"REWARD UP TO $50,000," the flier reads in somber black ink on plain white paper. "Please Help the Scrocca family get closure."

Tony works silently, methodically, wondering if any of the countless kids in the crowd can answer his questions: Who put a gas can on the porch? Who struck the match? And why in God's name did it happen?

Who and why, Tony wants to know as beer-fueled students laugh, whoop, wobble past. They wear "Fear the Turtle" shirts or no shirts or carry silly signs or have faces painted like warriors. Now and again the sweet-pungent scent of alcohol wafts through the merriment. It's a big game. The Terrapins are playing Virginia Tech on national television and students yell at one another and scream obscenities. "Hokies suck!"

Students -- even some of the wild ones -- pause and read the handout: "Michael Scrocca died in a house fire on April 30, 2005 at 7507 Princeton Avenue, . . . just off the campus of The University of Maryland. His family would like to know how the fire started so they can start the healing process."

Some of the young people say they are sorry. Some are visibly bummed out. Others toss the sheets into trash cans and walk into the stadium.

Tony is the only member of the Scrocca family who made the four-hour trip down to College Park. "This is a tough time," he says. "My younger son, Brian, is having a tough time. As is my wife, Mary."

As is Tony. By reputation, he has always been a gregarious man and fun-loving father. But tonight he goes about his business solemnly, doing what he has to do, all that he can do. There is no spring in his step, no light in his face. He hardly speaks as he passes out leaflet after leaflet and hopes that the words will trigger somebody's memory of an episode that grows increasingly distant.

"I'm just trying," he says, choking up, "to do what I can do to piece my family back together again."

'A Sweet Kid'

Susan Scullin sees the toll the tragedy has taken on Tony. "In the back of his eyes," she says, faltering. "He's dying inside."

A secretary at Somerville High School -- where Michael graduated -- Scullin is a close friend of the Scroccas.

Somerville High, Home of the Pioneers. A traffic sign near the entrance cautions drivers to go slow: "We Have Many Children. But None to Spare."

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