Greg Zanis is an invisible fixture at recent American tragedies.
In almost every city rocked by a mass shooting, the carpenter quietly slips into town and builds a gathering place for the community.
There’s never any fanfare or announcement. He just shows up.
“I’ve been to way too many shootings,” he said.
“Way too many.”
The iconic wooden white crosses, or Stars of David, etched with the names of victims are his work.
They often appear mysteriously overnight along streets, boulevards or parking lots, near scenes of unspeakable violence.
“I just started building crosses as a way of showing people I know your pain, I know what you’re going through,” explained Zanis, who was says his life was changed by the 1996 murder of his father-in-law.
Since then, Zanis has made and delivered the markers to the scenes of mass shootings in cities across the United States. He has branded his work “Crosses for Losses,” and his resume of tragedy includes visits to Las Vegas, Parkland, Fla., Orlando, and Pittsburgh, among many other places.
He has also made the crosses for the hundreds of victims of gun violence in his home city of Chicago.
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It has become a dark calling — and it’s one that has now brought him to El Paso, Texas.
The 2,100-kilometre drive took him 24 hours.
In the end, he delivered 22 new crosses to the site of the latest tragedy, bringing the grim total of his life’s work to 26,810 wooden markers.
“I think of the people, I don’t think of the numbers,” he said, unloading the crosses in a parking lot behind the El Paso Walmart where the shooting took place.
Ultimately, he says, he’s here to let the victims know they’re not alone.
“I give them something to go to and a place where we can all meet,” he said.
He only planned to stay in El Paso for a couple of hours, before hitting the highway again to service the tragedy in Dayton, Ohio.
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He feels his job is to bring comfort and awareness, but the one thing he’s not able to deliver to the grief-stricken is hope.
He lamented America’s epidemic of gun violence as an unsolvable situation.
“Don’t be silly, this is a cancer,” he said, when asked if he ever there would ever be a day when he didn’t need to make more crosses.
“I’m scared to wake up tomorrow, and so are you.”