Greg Zanis, the Illinois man known for making thousands of crosses and delivering them to scenes of tragedy across the country, passed away early Monday morning, his daughter revealed on Facebook.
"R.I.P. Dad," Susie Zanis wrote. "I know you were ready to go but we weren't ready to lose you."
Zanis' passing was also confirmed by fellow community activist Dawn Valenti, who wrote that her "friend and a friend to many has made his transition."
Zanis made more than 27,000 crosses in honor of victims of gun violence in the last 25 years. His crosses were seen after mass shootings in Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, El Paso, Parkland and his hometown of Aurora. But Zanis recently retired from cross making as he battled cancer.
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Those who know Zanis well organized a parade of vehicles to drive past his house Friday afternoon. Aurora police officers directed traffic as drivers and their passengers waved to Zanis and thanked him for what he meant to people over the years.
“We’ve been following him for quite some time and we know the work that he’s done and all the peoples’ lives that he has touched,” said Aleta Bumbar, a resident of Sandwich, Illinois.
Zanis stopped making his crosses on Nov. 21, saying the job became "more demanding."
“I’m just so worn out,” he said at the time. “My heart, it’s giving at my heart all over the place.”
Zanis' work has received mixed messages over the years, with some welcoming his crosses as touching tributes and others criticizing that they make the scenes appear more like a cemetery.
But his message remained the same.
"These are people, they’re not numbers," Zanis said. "It’s not gay people in Orlando. It’s not Sikhs in Milwaukee, it’s not Jewish people in Pennsylvania, it’s not black people in Chicago. This is our country. We’re a family. We’re American first."
What Zanis started with the crosses will continue with Lutheran Church Charities.
"I promised we carry on his legacy and realize how big a legacy he has," said Tim Hetzner, president and CEO of Lutheran Church Charities. "He’s just an incredible man and so humbled to take that on and take it forward."