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He’s made thousands of crosses for shooting victims. Now, Aurora’s ‘Cross Guy’ is retiring

Greg Zanis of Aurora is retiring from his cross-building mission after 23 years

Greg Zanis of Aurora stands in front of a display of more than 750 crosses he built to represent each homicide death in 2016 in Chicago. Zanis is retiring from his cross-building mission after 23 years. | Daily Herald

There was something different about these last two crosses.

The pair looked just the like the thousands of other crosses made by Aurora carpenter Greg Zanis. White, wooden, 3 feet tall. Red heart in the center.

Another school shooting summoned Zanis to California last month to bring crosses to a makeshift memorial for two teenagers killed by a fellow student at a high school in suburban Los Angeles.

As usual, Zanis wrote the names of the victims - Dominic Blackwell, 14, and Gracie Anne Muehlberger, 15 - in black marker across the crosses.

But instead of heading to the next memorial in what has become an exhausting, reflexive ritual, Zanis, 69, decided to step away from his cross-building mission and hand over the role to another ministry for victims of mass shootings and natural disasters.

”I’m not a counselor. It’s just way more than I can handle,” Zanis said Thursday.

The numbers behind his Crosses for Losses nonprofit are staggering: Zanis estimates he’s built 27,521 crosses over nearly a quarter century.

He’s kept track of all the memorials, filling 79 notebooks with names and ages of victims.

For more on this story, read the Daily Herald.