Since I’ve twice mentioned the arsonist who has been terrorizing several Seattle neighborhoods and who burned down my favorite coffee shop, I thought I’d let you know that law enforcement caught the guy. The experts who built a profile of the firebug predicted it would be a male in his late teens. They were wrong.
When I first saw this picture, I thought he looked familiar. And if you live in a metropolitan area he probably looks familiar to you, too. Cities are full of crazy homeless dudes, and that’s pretty much what they look like. Kenneth Swalwell, age 46, has a long criminal history, including two prior convictions for arson. You would think that going to prison twice for setting fires would make him rethink the wisdom of that behavior, but clearly, thinking is not Swalwell’s thing. And I don’t know if he’s been diagnosed with a mental illness, but “46-year-old homeless dude starting fires” screams “crazy.”
After reading more news reports and blogs, I learned that Swalwell frequented the Green Bean, the coffee shop he has confessed to torching. And then I realized he looked familiar not because he’s Generic Street Dude but because I’d seen him there. In fact, I think I saw him the day before he set that fire, but my brain may have made that detail up to add drama.
One thing I know for sure, he was not mistreated there. He was welcomed and allowed to sit in the dry, warm shop as long as he liked. He rewarded that kindness by breaking in, stealing a safe from the back office, and burning the place to the ground, along with the surrounding restaurants.
Now he will go back to prison, hopefully for long enough that the community will be permanently safe from his violence. (Another fire he has admitted to starting left a man with burns over 70% of his body.) Maybe he prefers prison, where it is always warm and dry and he always gets fed. I don’t know.
Tell me, friends: is he crazy or evil? And what exactly is the difference?