Crazed. Demonic. Twisted. Sicko. Depraved. Weird. Monster.
Google the name James Holmes and that's an approximate summary of what is being said about him at the moment.
In the aftermath of the tragic Denver shootings, his appearance in court today is being reported in every possible online news source. Those who have made the decision to enable the "comments" feature - which isn't all that many - have been inevitably flooded with contributions from the general public. Most of these messages are filled with hatred. Their authors are tossing around words like crazed, demonic, twisted, sick, depraved, weird and monster.
None of this helps.
There appears to be absolutely no doubt that James Holmes was the perpetrator of this appalling act of violence in which twelve died and scores more were injured. There are no words to describe such a terrible massacre. It is utterly tragic and senseless.
In these days of 24-hour news and constant updates, the papers are urgently searching around for facts and motives and anecdotes and acquaintances and soundbites to report. But, in reality, we know almost nothing aside from the eyewitness accounts of what happened on that horrible night, although there are lots and lots of theories and suggestions being thrust forward in an attempt to try and explain James Holmes' actions.
And none of it helps.
There has to be something desperately, seriously wrong for an intelligent young man - and this is one of the few things we do know about him - to have committed such an atrocity. His behaviour, and his demeanour in court - dazed, unfocused and seemingly unaware of what is happening to him - suggests mental illness. Would it make a difference if he was identified as suffering from schizophrenia or bipolar disorder or severe depression or delusions?
It isn't going to change anything for the victims. Nothing will bring them back. Their lives have been cruelly cut short. There is no way around this devastating fact.
But mental illness - which is already being discussed as a possible and significant factor in James Holmes' actions - can seriously diminish and hinder a person's capacity for normal behaviour. It has the power to alter someone beyond recognition. It can cause a person to do unspeakable things. Though it excuses nothing, it might explain something.
What the bereaved relatives and friends need just now is plenty of love and support and help and kindness and prayer. And what James Holmes needs is a fair trial. Nothing more and nothing less. If he is indeed mentally ill, he deserves to have that fact taken into appropriate consideration.
Innocent until proven guilty is an interesting concept and a bit of a grey area. Because James Holmes was captured quickly and confessed his deed to the police, he is already guilty in the eyes of the world. But in our haste to express our righteous horror over what has happened, no one should be using words like crazed, demonic, twisted, sick, depraved, weird or monster to describe him. We don't know anything about his circumstances. It's possible that he is a very ill young man. If he is, it doesn't excuse anything. It doesn't change the fact that a dreadful and heartbreaking tragedy has taken place. It certainly doesn't mean he should be spared incarceration. But we don't know anything yet. We are neither judge nor jury. There are far more important ways to spend time and energy than taking to the Internet and spewing forth fountains of bitter bile. It doesn't help. And if we do anything, we ought to be seeking to help, above all else.
Twelve lives were taken the other night. Another life has also been destroyed. The death penalty is already being discussed. James Holmes' life is effectively over, whether or not he is eventually executed. And if there is a even a small possibility that mental illness has influenced his actions, then we ought to stand ready to extend a tiny measure of understanding towards him whilst providing as much comfort and support and kindness and care as we can towards those whom he has wronged so deeply.
Justice must be done. But it must be justice, and no less. And the consequence of what has happened must not be an increase of hatred in our world. There is enough of that as it is.