(CHICAGO) — BY: MEREDITH DELISO
An Illinois man who made thousands of crosses commemorating victims of violence in America has passed away.
Greg Zanis, founder of Crosses for Losses, died Monday morning, the organization announced on Facebook.
Zanis, 69, of Aurora, died of cancer, according to Chicago ABC station WLS.
The master carpenter started making the crosses in 1996, the year his father-in-law was killed in his hometown of Aurora, Illinois.
“I had the privilege of having the prayer coalition come over and help me with my grief,” Zanis told ABC News in February 2019. “A few months later there was a 6-year-old killed in Aurora … and his mom asked if I’d make a cross for her son.”
Over the years, Zanis made more than 27,000 white crosses and traveled the country paying his respects to victims of gun violence.
One of his first projects was for the shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999.
He was in Newtown, Connecticut, following the Sandy Hook shooting; Orlando, in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting; Las Vegas after the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest Festival; Parkland, Florida, after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting; and El Paso, Texas, after a mass shooting Walmart. He built Stars of David to honor the victims gunned down at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
“I’ve got nothing with politics, I’m not a church guy [and] I’m not a gun guy,” he told ABC News from El Paso in August 2019. “I’m a guy about the heart. Our heart is broken here in America. I want everybody to know I love them.”
Last year, tragedy struck close to home when five employees at the Henry Pratt manufacturing plant in Aurora were killed in a mass shooting in February.
“This is the last thing I wanted, for this to happen so close to my house,” Zanis told ABC News at the time.
On Friday, three days before Zanis passed away, residents of his hometown formed a mile-plus-long car parade to pay tribute to him. His family invited people to drive by and wave so Zanis could appreciate it, according to WLS.
Linda Regnier was there with the cross Zanis made for her cousin, Luis Martinez, who was killed four years ago.
“We love Greg. He has been a light in the darkest moments for families,” Regnier told WLS.
In a Facebook post, Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin said Zanis was a “giant among men.”
“He was a man of action who simply wanted to honor the lives of others,” Irvin said. “His legacy shall forever be remembered in Aurora and around the globe.”
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