DeKALB – Memorial crosses lined the courtyard Tuesday at Northern Illinois University, where students, including Brandon Robertson Jr., had placed them one by one to represent the 128 homicide victims in Chicago so far this year.
Robertson, a junior family and child studies major, said he wanted to spread the message that “the violence has got to stop by any means.”
“I’m choosing to help out today, really because these are my people,” he said. “I really want to show people the amount of violence we have to deal with in today’s society and use this as a way to promote positivity and show people that we have to spread love.”
Robertson was one of about 15 students who helped set up the crosses, which were made by Greg Zanis, a retired Aurora carpenter who started the nonprofit Crosses for Losses.
Chicago violence has struck victims regardless of age or criminal involvement. In February, a 2-year-old girl riding in a car with her aunt was shot in the head and killed. An 11-year-old girl was shot and killed on the South Side of Chicago in the same week.
Each wooden cross had a victim’s name painted on it, with a photograph of the victim and a red heart at the center.
Zanis said he was asked by In the Name of Justice and other student groups to bring his crosses from Chicago to set up a memorial at NIU.
“This represents the 128 homicides in Chicago as of this year already,” Zanis said. “I also make a second set to give to families to have themselves.”
He said he also has placed memorial crosses at NIU to commemorate the five students who were killed in the Feb. 14, 2008, campus shooting. Other tragedies he has built crosses for include the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, he said.
Zanis said he has made 17,700 crosses to date, and he takes them on tour around the country.
He said bringing the Chicago crosses to NIU is a solemn reminder of the future those victims could have had.
“I think there’s a lot of students here on campus that are from Chicago, and by being here, we’re [saying] there is something else out here,” Zanis said. “There’s college; you don’t have to just live in a bad neighborhood. There’s alternatives.”
Trenton Hiley, a senior corporate communications major, said he helped put the crosses up Tuesday because the violence in Chicago is something that needs to be talked about.
“This is something that can’t be swept underneath the rug,” he said. “It’s something that’s going on. We’re on the same track as we were last year with the killings and everything.”
Chicago saw 762 homicides, 3,550 shooting incidents and 4,331 shooting victims in 2016, making it the deadliest year in nearly two decades, according to CNN.
Hiley also said he is helping to organize a student prayer vigil for those who lost their lives to violence in Chicago. The vigil will be at 3 p.m. Friday in the MLK Commons.
“With seeing these names, I want the campus to take away that it’s not only Chicago affected by the violence, but it’s also the individuals at NIU,” he said. “It’s starting to hit close to home.”
PHOTOS: 128 crosses at NIU
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