May 5 (UPI) — Greg Zanis, a retired Illinois carpenter who built and delivered handmade crosses for victims of U.S. mass-shootings, died Monday at age 69 after fighting cancer for a year, his family said.
Zanis’s white, free-standing crosses, painted with names of victims of violence and natural disaster, came to be a familiar sight in the aftermath of U.S. tragedies, from Columbine High School in 1999 to his home town of Aurora in 2019.
“God used him in a wonderful way, and I’m happy that He used him to bless others the way he did,” daughter Susie Zanis told Chicago TV station WGN. “We’re going to miss him terribly here, but the Lord is faithful, so one day at a time.”
Zanis built his crosses in his workshops for almost a quarter century, starting with a cross he constructed after his father-in-law was murdered in 1996.
Zanis, also known as “the Cross Man,” came to national attention when he delivered 15 crosses in his pickup truck and erected them to commemorate the Columbine shooting at a park in Littleton, Colo.
Through his organization, Crosses for Losses, Zanis estimated he built more than 27,000 of the simple wooden memorials. Zanis transferred his cross ministry to Lutheran Church Charities in December.
Zanis would build crosses in his garage workshop, then drive “however long it took” to deliver them, friends remembered Monday. He also created 800 crosses to be carried by family members in a march to commemorate shooting victims in Chicago.
“The man kept on saying, ‘I can make crosses, but we have to change things,'” close friend Matt Harrington told WGN.
Zanis’s work brought him to the scenes of the most tragic events in the United States, including the 2017 mass-shooting on the Las Vegas strip; the 2018 shooting deaths of 17 students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and the 23 people shot at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart in 2019.
But he also brought crosses to sites of fatal hurricanes, floods and tornados.
“Greg Zanis was a giant among men,” Aurora Mayor Richard C. Irvin said in a statement. “He was a man of action who simply wanted to honor the lives of others. In return, his life was one of honor and one that was celebrated throughout our nation and world.”