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Sugar Grove man delivers memorial crosses to grieving Newtown

Photos crosses thSugar Grove resident Greg Zanis friend Jane Jafferi set up Newtown Conn. honor victims tragedy. Phocourtesy Mary Colon

Photos of the crosses that Sugar Grove resident Greg Zanis and friend Jane Jafferi set up in Newtown, Conn., to honor the victims of the tragedy. Photo courtesy of Mary Colon

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“We both wanted to do what God wanted us to do, which was set out the crosses to honor the lives lost and bring comfort and peace to the families.”

— Judy Jaffrie, who joined Greg Zanis in putting up crosses in Newtown, Conn.

Updated: January 19, 2013 6:15AM

Sugar Grove resident Greg Zanis spent less than a day in Newtown, Conn., but he hopes he brought a tiny bit of peace to a tortured town.

Over the last two decades, Zanis has made thousands of crosses, which he places at sites of unexpected deaths. In addition to hundreds of individual locations around the Fox Valley, Zanis previously placed crosses near Colorado’s Columbine High School after the 1999 shooting spree and, earlier this year, at the theater in Aurora, Colo.

He began building crosses after his father-in-law was murdered in Aurora. He places them on these sites to pray that evil releases the area.

When he heard about the shootings on Friday where 20 children and six adults were killed at an elementary school, Zanis once again made preparations to visit tragedy. This time, he was accompanied by friend Judy Jaffrie, a former West Aurora English teacher now living in Wisconsin.

Jaffrie said she felt called to travel with Zanis. She said God wanted her to help him drive and cover some of the cost.

They left early Saturday morning and arrived in downtown Newtown Sunday afternoon. As they drove through town, Zanis, 61, spotted an historic home that in the summer serves as an ice cream shop called Heaven Ice Cream Parlour. They knew that was the place.

It took Zanis more than an hour to set out 25 crosses and one Star of David, he said. Most of the work was done while President Obama was speaking nearby so Zanis was able to work without much attention. He wrote the names and ages of each victim on the crosses and star.

“We both wanted to do what God wanted us to do, which was set out the crosses to honor the lives lost and bring comfort and peace to the families,” Jaffrie said.

Jaffrie and Zanis said the people of Newtown were very kind, offering food as they worked. The mood was quiet, almost silent.

“It was like a war,” he said. “Everybody’s walking around in shock.”

Zanis and Jaffrie left town a few hours after they arrived and returned to the Fox Valley at 8:30 a.m. Monday, covering 1,780 miles in less than two days.

For Jaffrie, the trip was spiritually empowering.

“When you go someplace where something this horrible has happened, you realize you’re part of something much larger and you sense there is a real presence there,” Jaffrie said.

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