If you put aside international terrorists, the soulless murderers of two loving adoptive parents in Florida may be among the most heinous killers of all time.
That's because of what they did to whom: They killed, in cold blood and with calculating premeditation, a couple who were engaged in one of the highest and noblest acts a human being can perform: raising children not their own -- many of them with special needs.
There's only one way Thursday's horrific crime west of Pensacola could have been worse, and that's if the perpetrators had also harmed the nine of Byrd and Melanie Billings' 17 children who were home at the time.
Perhaps the jackals merely hadn't planned the time necessary to knock off the entire brood. Maybe they simply hadn't the bullets.
They no doubt had the demonic proclivity, evident enough in their summary executions of two of the best parents most of us have ever heard of.
Byrd and Melanie Billings performed a community's share and more of heavy lifting, where raising children with disabilities is concerned. Thirteen of their 17 children were adopted, many of whom were special-needs kids.
It's as if the killers had searched the countryside in a perverted quest to murder the people doing the most for their fellow man.
Seven were arrested in the ensuing days, and surveillance video -- which the Billings used to help keep an eye on their flock -- showed the chilling sight of an organized armed assault from the front and rear of the rural home.
The killers took a safe from the Billings' home. But even if they had gotten the Hope diamond in this heinous heist, they took something infinitely more valuable: a loving, selfless couple devoted to providing for children who needed more than most parents can provide. The Billings had extra octane in their tank, and they used it for the betterment of mankind.
"Any man's death diminishes me," as the poet said.
Some more than others, it turns out.
We are doubly diminished today with the passing of Byrd and Melanie Billings.