Man Builds 20,000 Crosses For Mass Tragedy Victims, Then Gets The Most Amazing Reward

Uplifting | Trending

Man Builds 20,000 Crosses For Mass Tragedy Victims, Then Gets The Most Amazing Reward

The last couple of years have been rough for Americans.

We've had to deal with so many mass tragedies, from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting to the Las Vegas music festival massacre, and the recent shooting at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

After everything the nation has been through, we have all come up with our own ways to grieve and cope whenever these types of senseless incidents occur.

Some people hold vigils and memorials while others organize protests and pen open letters on social media.

But for Greg Zanis, he mourns the loss of these innocent lives in a very unique way.

Greg Zanis
Inside Edition

Just last year alone, he has visited Vegas, where the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history took place on October 1, during Jason Aldean's closing set at the Route 91 Harvest festival.

Shortly after, he was off to New York City, where eight people were killed in a terror attack on a Manhattan bike path.

A few days later, Greg was in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where an armed assailant took the lives of 25 people in a church.

The 66-year-old retired carpenter from Aurora, Illinois visited all of the sites where the awful tragedies have occurred to deliver wooden handmade crosses so the victims could be memorialized.

"I want the families to know Greg Zanis loves them, and when other people see this they say I love them, too. I want them to know the whole country loves them and we are behind them," he said while visiting Vegas.
Greg Zarin's crosses in Las Vegas

Since he started this amazing project 20 years ago, Greg has spent countless hours building an estimated 20,000 crosses.

Each cross takes about half an hour to build. They're usually painted white and include a red wooden heart plus the name and/or photo of the victim.

"People come and help me when I need help. They just stop by and have heard about me or want to know more about what I'm doing," Greg explained. "Carpenters and painters come over and help."
Greg Zarin's crosses

When the crosses are ready, the compassionate senior loads them into his pickup truck and drives across the country to deliver them where they're needed.

Unfortunately, there have been too many deaths in the last couple of months, and building crosses has turned into a full-time activity.

"For a month and a half now, I've been doing nothing but making full-time crosses," he told CNN.

Greg Zarin and the crosses in his pickup truck

As his story started to spread, people started wondering what inspired Greg to start this project out of the blue.

He explained that he started the Crosses for Losses project because he understands exactly what the families who lost their loved ones in such heinous ways are going through.

"I cry all the time because of this, and I'm not ashamed to admit it," Greg admitted. "When I go into a town, I keep it together. But once I leave, I get in my truck, and I just let it all out -- for as long as it takes."

Greg has his own tragic tale to tell.

In 1996, he found his father-in-law shot to death at the bottom of a staircase located just a few blocks from his house.

"I was so mad someone killed my best friend," Zanis told CNN. "It changed my life. I lost 50 pounds in six months. I know what the victims are going through when someone kills your friend or family member."

"Every cross I am building, in a way, is in the memory of my best friend," he added.

Greg Zarin
Las Vegas Review Journal

That same year, Greg lost a young member of his community when they were killed in a gang-related shooting.

That's the death that inspired him to use his skills and build a three-foot cross for the little boy's mother.

"I went to his home with the first cross I made," Greg recalled. "It was very emotional. Why would someone kill a 6-year-old? That's what the father was yelling outside the home, he was just yelling, 'Why? Why?'"

What started out as a small act of neighborly kindness turned into something the entire nation is now talking about.

"I've seen my dad change for the better since he started doing these crosses," Greg's daughter, Maria Raibley, wrote on a GoFundMe page. "This truly makes him happy. I can't call my dad without him talking to be about the people he met and what he plans to do with the crosses."
Greg Zarin installing a cross

Greg has since met and connected with thousands of individuals and families all over the country who have experienced the same kind of pain and heartbreak he and the boy's mother once felt.

His memorials usually stay up for 40 days before he gives them to the families of the victims or local museums.

But when he was in Vegas following the mass shooting, something he wasn't expecting happened to him.

News station Fox 5's Surprise Squad collaborated with some of their community partners so they could reward the hero for his selfless work in the face of seemingly endless tragedies.

Greg's new trailer
Kane County Chronicle

Greg, who has been using money from his own pocket and some donations to build the crosses and fill his truck's gas tank, was gifted with a $20,000 grant, a brand new truck and trailer, as well as some carpentry tools to make his job easier.

Although they're hoping he never really need to erect crosses again, the Surprise Squad were more than happy to give back to someone who has dedicated their life to such a wonderful cause.

In addition to the gifts, officials declared November 12 "Greg Zanis Day" and presented the carpenter with the symbolic key to the Las Vegas strip.

"It's fitting that a carpenter is who has brought us together," said Rev. Dan Haas. "What it did is give me, personally, was a moment to start to grieve."

We hope Greg never has to create so many crosses again, but if he does need to, it's nice to know that he has everything he needs to get his job done as efficiently as possible.

If you liked this story you should read Army Vet's Memorial Day Tribute Is Touching Hearts and Going Viral.

Blair isn't a bestselling author, but she has a knack for beautiful prose. When she isn't writing for Shared, she enjoys listening to podcasts.