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Man who made 27,000 crosses for shooting victims is retiring

OPELIKA, AL - MARCH 06: Carpenter Greg Zanis of Chicago delivers wooden crosses at Providence Baptist Church for tornado victims March 6, 2019 in Opelika, Alabama. Numerous of tornado touchdowns were reported in Eastern Alabama and Western Georgia on March 3 killing at least 23 people. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

AURORA, Ill. — An Illinois man who made more than 27,000 crosses to commemorate victims of mass shootings across the country is retiring.

Greg Zanis came to realize, after 23 years, his Crosses for Losses ministry was beginning to take a personal and financial toll on him, according to The Beacon-News.

“I had a breaking point in El Paso,” he said, referring to the mass shooting outside of a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. “I hadn’t slept for two days, it was 106 degrees and I collapsed from the pressure when I heard there were two more victims of the mass shooting.”

Zanis has set up crosses after the school shootings at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland. He also placed crosses after the Las Vegas music festival shooting and the Orlando nightclub shooting.

Greg Zanis lines up his crosses for the victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting in front of the high school, on May 21, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

“I leave a piece of my heart behind each time I go,” he said.

In 2016 he made more than 700 crosses that were carried along Michigan Avenue in Chicago to honor each person who had been killed that year.

Earlier this year, Zanis found himself making crosses for his very own hometown of Aurora, Illinois, after a Henry Pratt Co. employee opened fire on his coworkers.

ANTIOCH, TN – APRIL 24: Memorial Crosses are Erected by Greg Zanis with Crosses for Losses as Community members create makeshift memorials for and stop by to pay respects to the victims of the Waffle House shooting on April 24, 2018 in Antioch, Tennessee where 4 were killed and two were wounded after a gunman entered on April 22. (Photo by Jason Davis/Getty Images)

“After Orlando, it never stopped,” Zanis said of the mass shootings. “The country had me on the road for a while every week. I have driven 850,000 miles to put up crosses. I slept in my truck and never had the money to cover what I was doing.”

With donations from time to time, Zanis mainly relied on his own resources to build the crosses.

“At one point last year I was $10,000 in debt and somebody covered that for me,” he said. “Now I am $14,000 in debt.”

Zanis hopes to pass on his ministry to the nonprofit Lutheran Church Charities of Northbrook.

“I feel it is not the end of the ministry. It is the end of me doing it,” he said.

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