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Aurora’s Zanis recreates crosses for video on Sandy Hook tragedy

A crew films Greg Zanis Auroras he writes names victims Sandy Hook school shootings Newtown Conn. crosses near his property

A crew films Greg Zanis of Aurora as he writes the names of the victims of the Sandy Hook school shootings in Newtown, Conn., on crosses near his property on Sunday, January 27, 2013. Zanis was participating in a music video for a song written by musician Jim Peterick to serve as a fundraiser and tribute for those affected by the tragedy. | Jeff Cagle~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 1, 2013 6:42AM

AURORA — Greg Zanis was gliding a black marker across one of the 26 white crosses when the rain came and began to wash the ink away on a child’s name.

“Everything is identical to the day we were in Newtown — dreary, raining and there was a hill,” he said.

Zanis made the 26 crosses and the Star of David for a fundraising music video for the people of Newtown, Conn. — replicas of the crosses he brought to Newtown on the day after the tragic school shooting in December.

Zanis has traveled the country placing thousands of markers at the sites of murders and tragedies, but this was the first time he ever re-enacted his efforts.

“It’s difficult to put the crosses back up. It’s as though God is crying and his tears are falling from the sky,” Zanis said.

Twenty-five people gathered on the field of his Aurora property last weekend to shoot a music video by artists moved by the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, brought together by Chicago area rocker Jim Peterik, founding member of Survivor and the Ides of March.

Moved by the media accounts of the innocent victims and teachers who shielded them with their own bodies, Peterik co-wrote the song “Newtown (You’re Not Alone)” with lead singer Marc Scherer.

The song is available for download from iTunes, with all of the proceeds benefiting the United Way Sandy Hook School Support Fund.

While it might have been natural to write a somber, sorrowful ballad, Peterik decided on an upbeat song that “speaks to life even as it confronts the essence of evil and inexplicable violence.”

“I was moved in a way that I wanted to give something back,” Peterik said.

Peterik was collaborating on Scherer’s solo-album when he reached out to a few of his talented friends. He said he had stepped into a convenience store and read the headline in the Chicago Sun-Times that quoted President Barack Obama as saying, “Newtown, you are not alone.”

“I took a photograph of the headline and it really stuck with me,” Peterik said.

“When I was writing the lyrics, it became the focal point of the song. We are basically saying we are all in this together, as one voice saying this has to stop. We have to keep our children and the world safe,” Peterik said.

“It is meant to be a song of comfort,” he added.

“Jim is a creative genius,” Scherer said of Peterik, a Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer. “He has a way of saying he ‘paints a picture from the corners to the middle’ because he has such clear vision of what he wants to hear.”

Scherer, known for his remarkable 4-octave range, said they thought it would be best to have all of the proceeds go to a charity that would do the most good, and they wanted the people of Newtown to know they are not alone and have support from around the world.

Peterik said he was gratified when Zanis took a liking to the song and unexpectedly offered his property for creating part of the footage for the music video.

“This guy has made such a difference,” Peterik said of Zanis.

Videographer Greg Bizzaro, who has collaborated with Peterik on previous projects, spent most of the day capturing Zanis re-creating his actions on the trip to Newtown. Bizzaro said footage will include the painting of the crosses, the placing of a flower and the lighting of a candle near a make-shift memorial.

Bizzaro said what happened in Newtown was unimaginable, and the video’s stark contrast of the 26 white crosses against the dark gray skies was startling even for a veteran videographer.

“It becomes more real,” Bizzaro said.

He said the music video will feature the silhouettes and the hands of eight children who came to Zanis’ home on Sunday and launched dozens of blue balloons into the darkened skies.

Bizzaro said the video will be in black and white — except for the blue balloons. The closing will be a wide shot of the crosses and the lift-off of the balloons, he said.

This is Peterik’s second music video venture in Aurora. Last summer, he shot a video for his song, “Delusional” that featured local teens, for an album with his newest band, Pride of Lions. The video was filmed at the Aurora Public Library’s Eola Road branch.

“On the one hand it is really cool to work again with such professionals but it is conflicting in such tragic conditions,” said 16-year old Maggie Perez, who was singled out for Peterik’s first project in Aurora and also was involved in the Newtown video.

Her friend, Bella Crall, 15, said at the Newtown video shoot, “It breaks my heart to see the markers — I have a younger sister the same age.”

Amy Roth, public relations manager for the Aurora Public Library, suggested Bizzaro contact Zanis when he told her they were producing another music video for the Newtown tragedy.

“I told him how Greg (Zanis) drove the crosses plus one Star of David to Newtown. I suggested this might be a big portion of the video,” Roth said.

“Just thinking of the young lives lost, you can’t help but tear up, but when you see the crosses, it is even more touching,” Roth said.

Zanis has placed crosses locally and in communities across the country, including Columbine High School in Colorado and the movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

Zanis said he originally was reluctant to be part of a music video recreating the placement of the crosses, but he was so impressed by the song’s lyrics that he agreed to be involved.

“It is a song that brings the nation together,” Zanis said.

“It could have been any town.”

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