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
Updated: March 2, 2013 7:11AM
Friday, Dec. 14, started routinely for me. I was listening to Fox News just before 10 a.m. and heard the breaking story about a school shooting in Connecticut. Little did I know that news bulletin would pull me into a whirlwind of prayer and action.
As a mother, grandmother and teacher, I was horrified by the unfolding story of the homicides. I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t know what.
Saturday morning as I watched the news again, I suddenly remembered my friend Greg Zanis in Aurora, Ill. For the last 15 years, Greg has been placing crosses at the sites of multiple murders all over the country, first gaining national attention with the Columbine murders in Littleton, Colo. I knew Greg would be going to Connecticut, and I knew I was to go with him.
Greg called me at 3:15 on Saturday afternoon; I packed and left my apartment at 3:30.
Having packed his truck with 26 crosses and a Star of David, Greg began the drive. We stopped only for gas and snacks, taking turns at the wheel. We arrived in Newtown at 3:30 Sunday afternoon and were escorted to the center of town by four NBC staffers who weren’t covering President Obama’s speech at the high school.
Greg had said he’d know the right place for the crosses when he saw it, and he did. As we drove toward the center of town where people were quietly laying their memorials, Greg spotted a large lawn next to an old building. “That’s it!” he cried. “That’s where I want to put the crosses!”
The old building turned out to be an old church turned coffeehouse/ice cream shop. It was, we learned, appropriately called Heaven. We unpacked the crosses and set them in a long line on the lawn.
It was misting but not raining so Greg began writing the names and ages of the victims on the crosses. I set little stuffed animals on the bases of the crosses and a single silk rose next to them. Greg and I both prayed as we worked and with some of the townspeople.
A British reporter asked me, “Do you think this terrible tragedy will prompt your country to enact stricter gun laws?” I quickly and firmly told him, “We’re not here to toss out a political football about gun control. We are here to honor the victims and bring comfort, hope and strength to this community. We want them to know that the whole world is watching and praying for them.”
We spent two hours in Newtown and left before the media and the multitudes arrived at the spot where we’d been. The townspeople we met were gracious and welcoming, and our hearts were full of both sadness and gratitude as we drove back to Illinois. Sadness for those whose lives will never be the same, and gratitude for having had the opportunity to bring some small measure of assurance to the community that they are not alone or forgotten.
Jane Grippen Jafferi, a former West Aurora English teacher,
now lives in Durand, Wis.