Grant Park turns into ‘cemetery for a day’ with over 500 crosses for murder victims

CHICAGO — When runners arrive in Grant Park for a 5K raising money to combat gun violence Thursday evening, they’ll see a stunning display of just how big the problem has become: more than 500 crosses representing murder victims in the city.

More than 40 community organizations are coming together for the “Strides for Peace” 5K. At the start, each participant will walk through a “Crosses for Losses” display before running the race.

Retired master carpenter Greg Zanis, may not be doing his most complex work now, but "Crosses for Losses" is by far his most meaningful. Students volunteered to help the woodworker from Aurora unload more than 500 crosses and plant them in the city’s most prominent park Thursday.

“Today, I’m making grant park into a cemetery for a day. The 'Grant Park cemetery,'" Zanis said.

Zanis has traveled the country to visit sites of tragedies, bringing crosses to the sites of mass shootings from Aurora, to Orlando, to Las Vegas, to Santa Fe. But Thursday he’s closer to home, where the problem of gun violence has reached a shameful scale.

Mary Stonor Saunders is the Executive Director of Strides for Peace, which is organizing the 5K race to support 42 community organizations that combat gun violence.

“These are human beings who are meant to be in the world. They had value – not only to people who loved them, but to the world,” Stonor Saunders said.

With 563 in total, Zanis built each cross to represent a Chicago murder victim from the last year.

“We’ve got some new kind of cancer that’s basically incurable. The only thing that can cure this is for us to start loving each other,” Zanis said.

Organizers say a complicated problem like Chicago’s gun violence epidemic requires a complex solution, which is why so many organizations dealing with gun control, prison reform, mental health, poverty and education are all here working on solutions together.

"We believe all of Chicago has a stake in ending gun violence – we don’t have to agree on everything, but we can agree we want people to stop shooting each other,” Stonor Saunders said.

The race will begin and end Thursday in Grant Park, where each cross stands as a symbol of both heartache, and of hope.