September 19, 2019
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Son of immigrants travels US delivering crosses for shooting victims

By Jorge Mederos

Chicago, Aug 20 (efe-epa).- Over the past two decades Greg Zanis has built some 27,000 wooden crosses in honor of shooting victims in the United States and for many of those who have died violently in Canada and Mexico, and he has been delivering them personally to the victims' relatives.

The miles he has traveled over the past 20 years in the three countries would total "a round-trip journey to the Moon," the carpenter, who retired in 2016, told EFE in a telephone interview from his home in Aurora, Illinois.

He has included in his crusade the relatives of the people killed in the latest mass shootings in the US in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, where more than 30 people lost their lives and dozens were wounded within 24 hours earlier this month.

Zanis always makes his trips in his pickup truck, carrying the crosses in the back. He drove about 1,500 miles from Aurora to El Paso and another 1,600 miles to Dayton, ultimately returning to Illinois with almost no rest on the journey.

Zanis - the father of a Greek father and a Spanish mother - said that his four pickup trucks have each racked up 550,000 miles, adding that he does not consider himself to be a religious person or an activist working against gun ownership, saying that he pursues his project just because he wants the victims to be remembered.

The 68-year-old founded Crosses for Losses in Aurora in 1997 with the aim of offering the crosses free of charge to victims' relatives, as well as establishing memorials at the sites of the shootings, accidents or disasters.

Zanis said that he just goes when people call him, he doesn't watch television or let himself be influenced by the news.

In the case of El Paso, he began his trek to Texas after receiving calls from 12 relatives of victims who asked for his services, and once he arrived he had to improvise to be able to add the Dayton victims' relatives.

"I really don't have much of an opinion (about the violence) ... I'm trying to help a family out. And when you help a family, your heart just gets so full. I love what I'm doing," said the tireless Zanis, who since 1996, when his father-in-law was shot to death in a robbery, has been recording in his ever-present orange notebook the delivery of a total of 26,921 crosses.

Of that total, 21,000 were shooting victims, but his white crosses have also been seen in cities that have experienced tornadoes and fires, as well as at the sites of highway, maritime or aircraft accidents.

In Mexico, he has delivered 700 crosses and hundreds more in Canada, Zanis said, who pays attention to details and ensures that his crosses reflect the religion of the victims, whether they be Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and come adorned with ribbons for Buddhists or atheists.

After the memorial for his father-in-law in Aurora, and after a 6-year-old Hispanic boy was killed by a stray bullet fired by gangmembers in the same city, Zanis founded Crosses for Losses in Chicago.

He said he always knew that Chicago needed help, this about one of the most violent US cities and where there is a permanent memorial site for shooting victims that this year has received 314 additional crosses.

The first project that gave him national notoriety was in 1999 when he set up crosses at the Columbine, Colorado, high school where 12 students and a teacher were killed in a mass shooting.

His notebook includes memorials in honor of the 17 students killed at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February 2018, as well as those killed at a Santa Fe, Texas, school last May, and 11 people killed last October at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg.

"We're stuck with this here in America. This doesn't define us, but ... I'm realistic. It's not going to stop. You're talking to a guy who put up 5,000 crosses in America last year," said Zanis, who was also in Las Vegas after the 2017 massacre of 58 people, and in Orlando, Florida, after the 2016 gay Pulse nightclub massacre in which 49 lost their lives, many of them Puerto Ricans.

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