After a gunman killed 26 people during a church service on Nov. 5, Greg Zanis packed up his truck and drove to Texas. He installed a cross for each victim in the massacre, with a bright red heart and photo affixed to each one.
“I’m really kind of feeling like I’m bonding with these families,” he said as he wrote the name of a victim in permanent marker across the front.
Zanis, 66, was almost at a loss for words as he put up each cross.
“I’m just trying to show something that’s not around anymore that’s love and compassion and showing somebody you love them and doing something for them,” he explained.
The retired carpenter from the Chicago area travels the country to put up crosses for victims of violent crimes, including those who died in the country music concert attack in Las Vegas last month.
“This year I’m at 550 in Chicago alone,” he said. “I came from Chicago to show you that I love you and I’m not alone. Everybody loves you.”
“We’re in America, you are in a place where there is so much violence,” he added. “Chicago is the poster child, but heck, now, you can’t go to Orlando or Vegas and enjoy a vacation anymore.”
Zanis, a proud Christian, said he hopes to be a role model for “working-class people” looking for guidance. “I know the pastors got all the answers but actually… I’m the guy building those churches and those houses.”
He told a local, “It’s going to be a long time until things are back to normal here for you. Just have faith that it is going to be back to normal some day.”
Zanis has also started what he described as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization called Crosses for Losses, so that he can continue his “one-man mission to place crosses and/or other memorials to anyone and everyone who requests one.”
His Facebook page said he has constructed more than 14,000 wooden crosses and other memorials since 1997.