WASHINGTON — One by one people stopped and stared. The scores of passersby gazed at the thousands of crosses spread across the ground not far from the White House and soaked in the photographs of the faces that had been carefully attached to each. They were mothers, fathers, daughters, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, and cousins. They were black, white, Latino, young and old. Some had been killed even after living just a fraction of their lives.
These were crosses, somber memorials for dead, for Anthony Irving, Darrius Johnson, Chanelle Rosebear, Myah Bass, and hundreds more, all victims of gun violence.
“It was truly amazing to see,” said Belmira Machado, who stopped at the memorial, as she walked by. “It’s one thing to hear about the tragic deaths on the news, but it’s another to see their faces and see the visual representation like this.”
The stares, the questions, and the attention were exactly what Tao Martinez, Greg Zanis, and Robert Renteria had hoped for when they planned this Washington memorial. The response by those viewing it paid homage to all the hours they and others put in of collecting the wood and piecing the crosses together by hand, pulling the nails out of donated wood, carefully placing a photograph of each victim on a cross.
The Crosses for Losses team worked to create the memorial and it is designed to focus the nation’s attention on gun violence in America. It is an organization that does its part to end gun violence through support, education, and intervention. Zanis founded the organization over 20 years ago as a way to help others and grieve his own personal loss.
Martinez and Renteria recently joined the organization after losing a loved one to gun violence. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says guns kill on average 96 Americans per day annually. While thousands gathered in protest at the second annual Women’s March just blocks away, the exhibit, on the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of President Trump, the demonstration was to promote unity and not a political statement, Martinez said.
Martinez, emergency responder, Zanis, carpenter, and Renteria, author and motivational speaker worked nonstop to create the personalized crosses by hand, sometimes working for 22 hours straight, with the help of a few volunteers. Zanis and Martinez made the 11-hour drive from the Chicago suburb of Aurora to Washington with one of many trucks and trailers filled with crosses.
The trio and other volunteers Saturday placed the crosses, one by one, on the on an area called the Ellipse, not far from the White House. The entire process took about four hours.
“We want to make our country safe,” Martinez said.
The trio wanted to do “something fantastic, something big, something that the whole world and nation can come together to support,” Martinez stated.
It used to be Martinez’s job as a deputy coroner to tell relatives of the deaths of their loved ones.
“I don’t want to deliver this news to fathers and mothers,” he said, and “this year was just one after another,” Martinez continued.
Each cross came from a donation because the team did not have the resources to buy the 15,000 dollars worth of fresh wood required to make all 2,000 crosses, Martinez said. The team had to pull out nails, trim, and treat the wood before constructing the crosses into their final shape. Each cross featured a heart, as well as a picture and name of a victim of gun violence.
Before Machado left the site to attend the Women’s March, she offered one last comment, “something has to change.”
To learn more about the organization, visit their website at www.crossesforlosses.net.