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Strangers erect memorials for Texas church shooting victims

26 handmade crosses stand across First Baptist Church

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas – As the town of Sutherland Springs rallies around the victims, donations and memorials keep coming in, including from people who live outside of Texas.

Greg Zanis, a carpenter from Aurora, Illinois, made 26 white crosses with red hearts, one for each victim who died in Sunday's massacre at First Baptist Church. 

Zanis has been making crosses for crime victims since 1997, including the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas.

Related: Images: Remembering the Victims

The crosses stand across from the church, filling with messages of hope and prayer written in with marker by those paying their respects.

Terrie Smith, owner of Theresa's Kitchen, walked across the road from her restaurant to take a closer look at the crosses, including one honoring her friend and employee, Joann Ward. 

"She was my best friend, my little best friend," Smith said. "I miss her children. The little one knew she could come in and look at me. And I'd tell her, 'Go for it,' and she'd go get her little juice."

Smith said she appreciates Zanis' kind gesture.

Related: Latest on Texas church shooting

"It means that there are kind people out there (who) care. It's all about the kindness," she said 

Joshua John Fitch, an evangelist, drove 24 hours from Roanoke, Virginia, to erect a handmade full-size cross he uses in his ministry.

Fitch is carrying the cross 26 kilometers around the area before leaving it in front of the church to stay.

"This, this cross, has been in many places. It means a lot to me, and they (the victims) mean a lot to me." 

Although it will be a while before Smith can remove Ward's time card from the punch clock at her restaurant, the gesture of compassion helps heal the pain. 

Related: Funeral information released for church shooting victims

"I want to thank him. I know he did it with all his heart," Smith said.

Another outpouring of support for the surviving victims was in full display at a blood drive being held from noon until 6 p.m. Thursday at the Sutherland Springs Community Building at 411 4th Street.

When the blood drive opened at noon, there were plenty of donors ready to roll up their sleeve.

To help residents cope with the grief, counselors will be at the Floresville High School Auditorium at 6:30 p.m. Thursday to teach people how to identify common trauma and grief reactions in children.

Free meals will be provided at the event.