Retired Carpenter Who Puts Crosses Up After U.S. Tragedies Heads to Texas

Greg Zanis
Greg Zanis

Greg Zanis has been building crosses at the scenes of national tragedies for 20 years.

Greg Zanis, who is known for putting up crosses in honor of those killed by violence, is headed to Texas in the wake of the Sutherland Springs church shooting, which left 26 parishioners dead.

Zanis is a 66-year-old retired carpenter who spends his days building the wooden crosses and then traveling from state-to-state to put them up in memory of the victims. Each cross includes a heart, the victim’s name, and their photo. 

Zanis drove to Las Vegas from his home in Aurora, Ill., just last month after the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history that left 58 people dead. 

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“I just can’t understand why just a month later we have had another major U.S. tragedy,” Zanis told "It’s particularly offensive to me being in a church. It is the one that hurts me the most.”

Zanis first began building crosses when his father-in-law was murdered 20 years ago. He made a cross, which helped him cope with the grief. 

“It was life-changing for me,” Zanis said.

In the aftermath of his father-in-law's death, he noticed people’s kindness toward him and his family, and he wanted to replicate that feeling for others experiencing loss.

He made his next cross when the mother of Nico Contreras, a 6-year-old boy who was killed when a gang member fired a gun into a bedroom window in Illinois, asked Zanis to make one for her son.

“After I started making a few crosses, people kept asking me,” Zanis said. 

Zanis has built crosses for several U.S. tragedies. He made crosses after the Columbine massacre and the Aurora movie theater shooting in Colorado and the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting, among many others.

He also places a cross every time someone is killed by gun violence in Chicago, where the murder rate has already topped 500 in 2017.

Zanis often comforts the victim’s families in the aftermath of tragedies. 

“In Las Vegas, I hugged 500 people,” Zanis said. “They were waiting in line to hug me. I had never experienced things like that. Twenty police officers helped me unload the crosses when I got there. Everybody was so thankful.”

The crosses he made for the Las Vegas victims are now set to be displayed in the Clark County Museum in Henderson, Nev.

Zanis drove to New York last week after Sayfullo Saipov allegedly mowed down eight people on a busy bike path in lower Manhattan in the name of ISIS. He said he met with family members of some of the victims during that trip.

Zanis will soon be heading to the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. He said Monday afternoon that he is working on getting photos and names of the 26 victims to put on the crosses.

“I had people stop by and help me,” Zanis said. “When I am doing multiple crosses like this, it changes the focus to the victims. This isn’t the end. They are in heaven. I am trying to offer the hope of Christ in a very desperate situation.”

Zanis said he considers himself doing what Jesus, who was also known as a carpenter, would do.

To donate to Zanis’ cause, click here