SEATTLE – Don Towle’s poster read “Welcome Home.” He had spent two hours making it out of corrugated board, drawing a picture of the Space Needle.
The Seattle resident was among the throngs of well-wishers and international media that greeted Amanda Knox as she arrived in her hometown of Seattle on Tuesday night, after four years in an Italian prison.
“I’m just here to say, ‘Welcome back to Seattle,’ ” said Towle, who fought his way to the front of the crowd at SeaTac International Airport. “She’s been through an awful lot. She’s been in the front of everyone’s mind for years. I just think it’s great that she’s back.”
A tearful Knox addressed her supporters with her hands clasped over her heart.
“I’m really overwhelmed right now. I was looking down from the airplane, and it seemed like everything wasn’t real,” she said shortly after the plane landed. “Thank you for being there with me.”
Less than 36 hours ago, an appellate court in Italy threw out her conviction on sexual assault and murder charges in the death of her British roommate. The 24-year-old was a University of Washington student studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, when she and two others were accused of killing Meredith Kercher.
The case made her a tabloid staple in two continents and a cause celebre among supporters in the United States, where they held spaghetti dinners, bowling events and concerts over the years to raise money for her defense.
Many held signs at her homecoming that read, “Welcome Home Amanda.” She looked visibly tired and was overcome with emotion as they cheered and unsuccessfully fought back tears as she looked at them. Before she spoke, Knox sat holding her mother’s hand.
“My family’s the most important thing to me right now, and I just want to go and be with them, so, thank you for being there for me,” Knox said.
Her attorney, Theodore Simon, reiterated her claims of innocence in the case. Her conviction was overturned amid doubts over DNA evidence. The decision angered prosecutors, who said they would appeal, although nothing in Italian law prevented her from returning to the U.S. in the meantime.
On a block of modest homes in her father’s neighborhood of West Seattle, balloons and a big blue sign with “Welcome Home!” in yellow writing were hung at Curt Knox’s house. After returning there from the airport with his family, he called the ordeal a long journey.
He said his daughter was interested in finishing her degree at the University of Washington, though it was not likely to happen any time soon, he said.
“The focus simply is Amanda’s well-being and getting her re-associated with just being a regular person again, and that’s what we’re looking forward to,” he said.
Knox grew up in the tight-knit neighborhood, where many members of her family live. She graduated from the private Explorer West Middle School in 2001, then earned a scholarship to Seattle Preparatory School. At the University of Washington, Knox studied writing and foreign languages and enjoyed outdoor activities including rock climbing, hiking and camping.
Susan Rosales was one of a dozen Knox supporters who stayed up all night at a downtown Seattle hotel to wait for the appellate court’s verdict Monday. She was at the airport with a shirt that said “Free Amanda” in Italian.
“I just want her to get rejuvenated and rested. I hope she doesn’t get hounded by paparazzi. I’m very worried about that,” she said.
She said she was worried that the media would not leave Knox alone, even in Seattle. Before Knox arrived, anticipation built as international media and onlookers tracked Knox’s flight.
Rochell Fitzgerald, 52, flew to Seattle from California but delayed the next leg of her trip home to Port Angeles, Wash., in order to catch a glimpse of Knox.
“It’s history, and it’s a good ending to a very sad story,” she said.