Greg Zanis came to California with a dozen white crosses as residents of this wooded city reeled from the twin tragedies of a mass shooting that killed 12 and a ferocious wildfire that torched homes.
The Illinois resident drove 2,000 miles to place the markers at a growing memorial to the victims of the Borderline Bar and Grill massacre. He did the same for victims of the Route 91 shooting in Las Vegas, and he’ll drive again on Monday, when he’ll plant crosses for the California fire victims.
Just weeks ago, Zanis took a similar trip. He made 11 Stars of David for each person killed in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Not even three weeks have gone by when 11 people were murdered,” he said. “The second it happened, people started calling and saying, ‘You coming?’ I have lost track of days.”
The crosses help people grieve and help him cope, he said.
They now stand alongside a memorial to the Thousand Oaks victims full of American flags, flowers and candles. A wall is covered in scrawling Sharpie writing, bearing messages like, “Thank you,” “HERO,” and “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.”
People affected by the tragedies say they also have drawn strength from their faith. Others have turned to loved ones for support, hoping to return to the country bar as a show of solidarity.
Zanis, a retired carpenter from Aurora, Illinois, travels to the scene of tragedy when he’s called. Working on the crosses and being in his wood shop keeps him focused and gives him solitude, he said. It keeps his own feelings of loss from festering.
In 1996, he found his father-in-law dead from a gunshot to the head. In January, his daughter died of a heroin overdose.
“I don’t know how else to say it, but I’m a victim, too,” he said. “I know what these families are going through. I really do.”
During the shooting, a shout to ‘break the windows!’
Marshall Lybarger grew up in rural Oklahoma. When he enlisted in the Navy and relocated to California in August, he felt like he didn’t fit in.
Some military friends suggested going to the Borderline Bar and Grill.
“I grew up in the country, so this was the first place I felt some normalcy,” he said.
Like most Wednesdays, he was there with his girlfriend last week.
He saw the gunman and tried to hide as many people as he could.
“As soon as I heard that first shot, I looked to the right and saw him (the shooter) there,” he said. “I was pushing people against the bar, and he turned away.”
Lybarger said he and other bar patrons noticed they were near the building’s windows and decided to make a break for it.
“We immediately started yelling, ‘Break the windows!’ ” he said. They threw stools through the windows, shattering them.
A number of people who showed up at local hospitals were injured while escaping, instead of from gunshots, a Ventura County Sheriff’s Office spokesman said.
Lybarger came back to the area Friday to reclaim his car. Being back felt odd, but still right.
“It’s weird and eerie, but it’s relieving in a sense,” he said. “It’s like confronting a demon.’
It wasn’t just the country music or the line dancing that made him feel at home. On any given night, Lybarger could visit the bar and greet employees and other customers by name.
He was away from home, but he fit in.
“As soon as it opens,” Lybarger said, “I’m going back.”
Survivor: I ‘tried to save as many people as I could’
The Campbell family has dodged death before.
In 2017, one brother escaped the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, among the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.
The other was at the Borderline last week.
“Words can’t really describe what it was like,” said 19-year-old Ben Campbell.
He was there with his girlfriend, celebrating another friend’s birthday. He knew some of the 12 who died.
“I laid down on as many girls as I could … I knew that’s what God would want from me,” Campbell said. “I put all my faith in God and tried to save as many people as I could before I went.”
His brother, who lives a few minutes away, arrived before first responders, Campbell said, and helped treat someone who was shot.
On Friday, Campbell’s brother rushed toward danger once again.
A Ventura County firefighter, he was deployed to fight the blaze ravaging the community.
Since the shooting, Campbell said he’s received about 250 text messages and calls from relatives, friends and acquaintances checking in on him and offering support.
Like others who survived, he said he relies on faith. Survivors in interviews often said they were given peace by God, Jesus and prayer.
As he spoke, Campbell looked down at his black “Vegas Strong” T-shirt. He wears it for his brother.
“It makes me feel safe,” he said.
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SOURCE: Arizona Republic, Joshua Bowling