For years, master carpenter Greg Zanis, from Illinois, has been handmaking and delivering individualized memorial crosses across the country, free of charge. Today, he is building crosses and other markers to remember the victims of deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
The message Zanis, 68, aims to send with his memorial crosses is simple: “Today it’s the first day they get to go to heaven … they’re not suffering anymore. We’re going to see them again.”
Zanis said the sister of one of the victims contacted him. She wanted him to make a cross for her brother, but he wouldn’t go without creating a memorial for everyone.
“I’ve never done that before … It’s just heart wrenching. I don’t know what to make of all this right now,” Zanis said. “I’m losing a piece of my heart.”
Zanis drove all day Sunday from his home in Illinois to El Paso, Texas, where 22 people were killed and more than two dozen others were injured. He arrived at 4 a.m. Monday and spent several hours putting crosses together at a makeshift memorial to the shooting victims. The white crosses featured the names of those killed and heart-shaped displays.
He will soon head to Dayton, Ohio, where nine people were killed and 27 were injured in another mass shooting over the past weekend.
“I go to God. I don’t mind sharing my heart with the world and the country,” he said.
Zanis started offering to make crosses after the 1996 murder of his father-in-law in Aurora. The first mass shooting he went to was Columbine High School in Colorado, where 12 students and a teacher were killed in 1999. He has since then provided more than 26,000 wooden memorials at the site of mass murders and other tragedies across the United States.
Zanis did a similar tribute in Las Vegas for the victims of the 2017 shooting that killed 58 people.
“I did Las Vegas where 58 people were killed. I did Parkland, Florida. I did Sandy Hook. I did the Orlando night club,” he said.
So far, Zanis has driven more than half a million miles to bring light to communities grieving.
“It’s about the heart and I want you to remember these family members in a very unique way,” he said.
Zanis said his aim is simple. “I’ve got nothing with politics, I’m not a church guy [and] I’m not a gun guy. I’m a guy about the heart. Our heart is broken here in America. I want everybody to know I love them,” he said.