Greg Zanis lines up crosses he built in front of Santa Fe High School on May 21, in Santa Fe, Texas. The crosses are a memorial to the victims of a mass shooting there. He’s made them for the victims of many shootings. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Another mass shooting, and Greg Zanis, a carpenter from Illinois, was again on the scene, ready to hand-craft one wood memorial cross for each of the dead. He’d made them in Orlando and Las Vegas and Parkland — and at the many shootings in between. Now, Santa Fe.

Ten more crosses. The pace of mass shootings in America had become unrelenting, and he stood drained.

“It’s depressing,” said Zanis, who runs the one-man charity Crosses for Losses. “And with all that’s happening, without help, there’s no way I could afford all that lumber.”

Horrific scene after horrific scene, a routine has emerged for the first days after a mass shooting, from what politicians say in front of the cameras, to how makeshift memorials appear, to how the media responds and people react, to the slogans meant to rally a community in pain. The pattern can feel unnerving, a repetition honed by too-frequent tragedy, and they can begin to blur together.

After a 17-year-old student shot and killed eight students and two teachers on May 18 at Santa Fe High School, the chaplains and counselors showed up. So did the therapy dogs. The golden retrievers wore blue vests reading “Please pet me.” Lutheran Church Charities staff knew how the dogs could calm a person in pain, experience gained in the decade since the program started with another school shooting, this one at Northern Illinois University, where a gunman killed five students and wounded 17 more.


People pet a comfort dog during a vigil outside Santa Fe High School, where a gunman killed 10 people. (Matt Patterson/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

The marquees of several Santa Fe businesses — a carwash, a small church, a dentist’s office — were changed to read “Santa Fe Strong.” T-shirts were printed. It was a statement of resiliency with roots in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. The phrase “Boston Strong” was born. And it’s been adapted to tragedies since. Orlando Strong. Vegas Strong.

“We are Santa Fe Strong,” the assistant schools superintendent said at a news conference.

“We are Santa Fe Strong,” the mayor-elect said.

“We have a very long road ahead of us,” the superintendent said, “but together, with your help, we know we will be Santa Fe Strong.”

The satellite TV trucks lined up outside. The hunt for motives frustrated. The only change was that fewer politicians offered their “thoughts and prayers” — a phrase now ridiculed after having been recycled so many times before. 


A sign at a local restaurant pays tribute to the Santa Fe victims. (Loren Elliott/Reuters)

A familiar face stood outside Santa Fe High. It was Sandy Phillips. And this was her ninth mass shooting.

She and her husband lost their daughter, Jessica Ghani, 24, in the 2012 mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. After that, they founded Survivors Empowered. They show up at shooting scenes to offer help and push for gun control. Phillips advises families how to deal with the hoaxes and misinformation that tend to flow online after a tragedy like this. She tells survivors how to find trauma therapists.

Phillips noted all the similarities here to the other mass-shooting scenes they have visited.

“We’ve got the dogs. We’ve got the water from the Red Cross,” she said. 

It looked to her like a rapid response to a natural disaster, something you might see after a hurricane or tornado or flooding. But what happened here was different.

“This,” she said, “can be prevented.”

And then, a week after the Santa Fe school shooting, there was another one.

It happened in Noblesville, Ind. A student is accused of shooting a 13-year-old girl. A teacher was injured. Both were expected to survive. The event barely caused a ripple outside the state.

Within hours of the shooting, a hashtag began to circulate on Twitter: #NoblesvilleStrong.


Greg Zanis of Aurora, Ill., carries two of the 12 crosses he made for a memorial to the victims of a mass shooting at a movie theater in 2012 in Aurora, Colo. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)