The Internet has made it easier for troubled people to find support and become parts of helpful communities. What about when these people are teenaged girls, and the community is a collective adoration of a "cute" murderer?

When the mesmeric portrait of 19-year old Boston bombing suspect Dzhokar Tsarnaev surfaced in April, a movement was born. ‘Free Jahar’ (http://www.freejahar.net/; NSFW) found its way on many social networking sites, with its followers believing that he had been wrongly accused, that he was innocent. Some posted that he was too cute to be guilty.

Wait. A. Minute. Did I just see Tsarnaev being called cute?

When Rolling Stones used his photo on its latest cover, with quite a resemblance to its Jim Morrison spread, ‘Free Jahar’ rose to prominence again.

‘Free Jahar’ comprises mostly, but not completely, of female teens and has understandably fuelled public outrage. We’re talking about besotted young girls who are in love, who are fantasising about a murderer.

Friends I’ve spoken to about this cannot digest such a trend. “So there are women who actually want to carry the baby of a murderer?” one asks. Sure, we’ve all had a skewed up moral compass and supported Heath Ledger over Christian Bale. But this? Unbelievable, I thought. But turns out, this isn’t something new.

A week or so after James Holmes opened fire at a theatre in Colorado, much vitriol was spent outraging over teenage girls who were declaring their love for him. The members of this group called themselves ‘Holmies’ (http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/holmies; NSFW) and relentlessly posted the same picture of a depressed, lost-in-thought James in court with captions like ‘Keep Calm and Love James.’

All of this has created a buzzword - hybristophillia: the sexual preference for people who have committed murder or other violent crimes.

Outpouring of love for an accused killer is not a new phenomenon. These groups are just an offshoot of many other fan groups that crush hard on killers. Ted Bundy, Charles Manson (http://charlesmansonslovechild.tumblr.com/; NSFW) and the famous Columbine brothers (interestingly called the Columbiners - http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/columbiner; NSFW) – all have their groupies.

Now why would a woman be sexually attracted to a murderer?

Sheila Isenberg, author of Women Who Love Men Who Kill, explains in her book how the fantasy of getting attention from a famous murderer is easier to realize than the fantasy of attention from other celebrities.

Women and men who are desperate for attention also find captive criminals easier to love. Any guy sitting in jail or on death row will focus attention out of boredom. But that romantic focus is like a blazing light to some women.

Crazy! They’d grow out of it. This has no future, the logical part of my mind dismisses it. Thinking about your teen crush will mostly result in cringe-worthy memories. They are meant to be grown out of, right?

Not really. Serial killer Richard Ramirez (http://richard-f**king-ramirez.tumblr.com/; NSFW), who murdered and dismembered 13 people in the 1980s, had no trouble finding a bride. Doreen Lioy started writing to Ramirez after falling for his picture in the paper. They were married in 1996 in the prison waiting room.

When I was in eighth grade, a friend had a huge crush on Daniel Radcliffe. She would print out his every picture; she went through a lot of tape. She knew more about Daniel Radcliffe than the boy in class she found to be cute. She was also constantly mocked at, thanks to this obsession.

Crushes have been a constant source for mockery, but they are also a cause for huge anxiety. The Beatles were always on the run, hiding from scores of hysterical girls who wanted a mixture of too many things: to touch them, to squee, to just be taken away on a crazy feeling.

Beatlemania was revolutionary, as explained in this 1992 article, because it showed an obvious public display of sexual desire at a time when young girls were supposed to be disciplined and demure. “For girls, fandom offered a way not only to sublimate romantic and sexual yearnings but to carve out subversive versions of heterosexuality.”

Which brings me to my next point. So how different are the Holmies from your quintessential Beliebers or Beatlemaniacs? Yes, the obvious being, you cannot reach Justin Bieber because he is a famous pop musician, while you cannot reach James Holmes because he’s a famous murderer and he’s in jail. Besides that?

And what’s common. Both of these groups represent your typical online fan community. They predominantly use Tumblr – the perfect medium for a crush. Perfect to just share pictures, gifs, videos, memes, etc., without any sequence or connection whatsoever. They both talk in similar ‘fan-girl lingo’ – “Aaah, I think I’m going to faint.”, “Ugh, every time I see him I get the squishies”.

Apart from the object of their affections, do they seem similar? I’d like to think so.

All of this put together gives a very scary picture. It would be easy to classify this sort of affection as disturbing, especially considering that most of the girls are teenagers. But we do know that teen crushes have a tendency to be... stupid, and illogical. How many times have we scoffed at a friend, “Ugh, a crush on him?!”

Easily the biggest danger in all of this, at least for me, is rushing to judge and stereotype this group of girls, so much to the extent that it translates as gender bashing. The rage that is being directed at these girls is quite appalling: right from revenge fantasies to statements like “this is why women’s rights is a terrible idea”, it has the danger of blowing up into magnified proportions.

In the most positive sense, these girls are also helping each other. They are able to relate to each other, finding safety in numbers. Holmies post helpful information about psychosis in between their #dirtyholmiesconfessions. Columbiners act as one another's suicide watch. They are in a way redefining “normal” teen girl behaviour. It is only so much about Holmes or Tsarnaev or any other criminal who has a huge fan following. It is more about themselves, the girls and their feelings.

Just like everything else, the Internet has made love connections like these so much easier. With options like Meet An Inmate and Prison Pen Pals, meeting a ‘criminal crush’ might just be a click away. And is anything going to change with these girls? I’m not sure. Probably not. What is even scarier is trying to imagine this in an Indian scenario. “Kasab, he was so cute!” Gaaah.

(When she is not busy making movie references or watching plays, Preethi writes about whatever she finds out of the ordinary. Send her feedback at preethi.r@thehindu.co.in or tweet mundane stuff to her @preetweets.)