For CNN: 


"When Greg Zanis travels to the sites of mass shootings, he brings a handmade cross for each victim, but he also carries a few extra to hand out as gifts.


Not this time.


“They were trying to buy them from me in El Paso, but I need them here,” the Crosses for Losses founder said as he turned his full-size Nissan pickup, its bed packed with nine crosses, onto Fifth Street in Dayton.


This marked the first time Zanis had to drive from one shooting location directly to another. After a gunman killed 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and another shooter took nine more lives several hours later in Dayton, Zanis began a journey of roughly 3,500 miles.


CNN joined the 68-year-old Wednesday near the Indiana border on the last leg of his trip. He’d already driven 1,500 miles from his home in Aurora, Illinois, to El Paso, then another 1,600 miles to Dayton, despite collapsing Monday in South Texas’ 101-degree heat."

Greg Zanis removes a cross from the bed of his pickup truck in Dayton, Ohio. “I’m uniting America in a unique way — United States Strong,” he said. “We’re not letting this define us.”

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Zanis writes the name of Monica Brickhouse, a victim in the Dayton shooting, on a cross he constructed in his Aurora workshop. He says he’s spoken to relatives who still have crosses he made 20 years ago. “That’s all they have left, and it means everything to them.”

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Though the crosses are already made when he arrives, it takes Zanis more than three hours to prepare them and place them on Fifth Street, as he stops to speak with anyone who approaches. No one is a stranger. There are never handshakes — only hugs.

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Samiya Booker, 10, writes on one of the crosses after Zanis unloaded it from his truck. Her sister, Neveah, 11, looks on. Zanis leaves the crosses at the shooting sites for 40 days before returning and presenting them to family members. The number is arbitrary, he said. It just seems like the right amount of time.

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Though the victims in Dayton are memorialized with crosses, Zanis is conscious of religion and strives to honor victims appropriately. Gerald Fischman, slain in the 2018 Capital Gazette newsroom shooting, stands out. Zanis wept recalling how Fischman, who was Jewish, wrote the paper’s Christmas editorial and volunteered to work on Christmas so others could take off.

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Zanis keeps the names of victims he’s honored in a notebook. “It’s similar to a bomb goes off and leaves a big crater of damage, and, oh my gosh, we fill that in with flowers and candles and teddy bears, and we’re going to make a pile out of it and we’re going to win the dang devil over,” he said.

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Zanis embraces Leah Matthews, 33, of Cincinnati, who, as her shirt says, survived the 2017 mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas. Zanis honored those victims with 58 crosses, which he placed in front of the iconic “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Clark County, Nevada, officials declared November 12 “Greg Zanis Day” and presented the carpenter with a key to the Las Vegas Strip.

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Zanis writes victims’ names and the cities where they were killed on each cross, along with a Bible verse. He also welcomes others to adorn them with remembrances. After he placed the crosses Wednesday on Dayton’s Fifth Street, mourners put candles in front of each memorial.

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