Crosby: Aurora man heading to Las Vegas with truck full of crosses

Denise Crosby
Aurora Beacon-News

Greg Zanis of Aurora first heard the news about the Las Vegas shooting when an employee from ArchAngels Biorecovery showed up at his door around 7:30 Monday morning with a check from the Aurora cleanup company for $1,200.

The donation was gas money for Zanis so he could take a pickup truck filled with crosses to Las Vegas, where at least 59 people have been killed and more than 500 wounded after a gunman opened fire at an outdoor Jason Aldean concert on Sunday evening.

"At first, when he told me what happened, I didn't believe him," said Zanis of his early-morning visitor. "And then I just cried."

It wasn't long before the phone calls started coming in to his home on Church Road. From the media, of course. And more importantly, from the mayor's office in Las Vegas, asking Zanis to bring his unique anti-violence crusade to the desert city that has become the latest — and sadly, the largest — mass murder site in this country.

"This is what usually happens," noted Dan Haas, co-founder of the Aurora Prayer Coalition for Reconciliation, who stopped by Monday to help Zanis, founder of Crosses for Losses — which became a nonprofit this summer — put together more crosses for the long trip from Aurora to Las Vegas. "The phone calls start coming and they don't stop."

With some of the crosses from Columbine — the high school shooting that propelled this Fox Valley carpenter into the national spotlight — hanging overhead in his stuffed garage, Zanis revved up his power saw and began slicing into the unfinished crosses, cutting them down to size so they could be fitted onto stands. He already had about 48 completed or near completion, so making another dozen or so did not take that long.

"I've told them I will need 250 feet," he said of his conversation with Las Vegas officials. "This is a long display. There are a lot of crosses."

After receiving identities of the dead, on Tuesday Zanis attached names to the finished crosses and loaded 65 — he always takes extras in case the death toll rises — into his white Dodge truck and headed to Vegas around 9 p.m.

Zanis hoped to make it to Denver late Wednesday and be back on the road the following mornning for the final stretch of his journey. As is usually the case, he's not sure what to expect as he gets closer to the killing site, but if the past is any indication, he said, the closer he gets, the more vehicles gather to escort him to his destination. And, while he's not sure where the crosses will be planted, he's hoping the memorial display will be as near to the shooting site as possible.

Zanis had already made a trip to the local pantry to get the food he will need for the trip. Money is tight, as always, but having made more than 20,000 crosses since this crusade began two decades ago — all of them chronicled in more than 77 notebooks, Haas noted — the retired carpenter always finds a way to create and transport those crosses from one end of the country to another.

As is always the case — whether local or Columbine or Colorado or Sandy Hook or Orlando — families of the victims will ask for duplicates, he says.

And Zanis will make them. For as long as they are requested. For as long as he can.

"It gets complicated," he added. "But I do it for the families. This does not get easier. My heart is not made of wood."

DCrosby@tribpub.com

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