An ‘Overwhelmed’ Amanda Knox Returns Home—Will Seattle Embrace Her?

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Amanda Knox, right, acknowledges the cheers of supporters while her mother comforts her following her release from prison in October, 2011.

Amanda Knox dreamed of going home. Now she’s there. She touched down in Seattle late Tuesday and was greeted by family, friends and a whole lot of reporters.

Knox landed at about 5:08 p.m. local time in Seattle on a British Airways flight from London and her family held an immediate press conference outside of Sea-Tac Airport, where the 24-year-old Knox made her first public comments since leaving Italy.

After wiping away tears—and having her family remind her to speak in English, not Italian—and while a crowd at the press conference outside of the airport shouted “welcome home, Amanda,” Knox made her first public appearance on American soil.

“I’m really overwhelmed right now,” she said to the hundreds who came to watch see her. “I was looking down from the airplane and it seemed like everything wasn’t real. What is important to me is to say thank you to everyone who has believed in me.”

“My family’s the most important thing to me right now and I just want to go and be with them.”

(LIST: Top 9 Tweets About the Amanda Knox Verdict)

From there, her family swept her away to the West Seattle neighborhood where both her parents, who are divorced, still live.

The city of Seattle seems to have locked on to the Amanda Knox story, avidly choosing to embrace its native daughter. There were various signs of support in her neighborhood, including a blue sign with “Welcome Home!” in yellow lettering on the home of her father, Curt Knox, and another on a local record store marquee.

Throughout the city, including the schools she attended, the responses were equally warm. At an assembly on Monday at Explorer West Middle School, where Knox was a model student at the private school and even had a scholarship named in her honor, students cheered after the acquittal verdict was announced in Italy. Claudia Rose, the school’s admissions director, told the Seattle P-I that “we’ve always stood behind her and her family. I can’t wait to talk to her. I just can’t wait.”

(MORE: Amanda Knox is Free, but Italy Isn’t Really Pleased)

Students and staff at Knox’s alma matter, Seattle Preparatory, a private Jesuit school in the city, have spent years supporting her with fundraisers and care packages, so the mood there was plenty celebratory. And her hometown college, the University of Washington, also in Seattle, where she was a student studying writing and foreign languages when she decided to study abroad, students and staff couldn’t stop talking excitedly about the verdict. Some on campus even sported Amanda T-shirts to support her.

(MORE: Three Countries, Three Different Portrayals)

If Facebook is any indicator, tears and joy were the norm for Seattleites following the case and the Italian appeals court’s Oct. 3 decision to overturn her earlier conviction for the death of Meredith Kercher, her British roommate while in Italy.

Knox’s real friends, the ones who started the Friends of Amanda group, stood in the limelight too, with Tom Wright, one of the group’s leaders, reading a statement that says they welcome her back with “open arms and open hearts” and that Amanda deserves “all the joy and warmth and fun” of normal life.

(LIST: Who’s Who in the Italian Murder Trial)

A ‘normal’ life is probably a long way off for Knox. Which begs the question: How will she handle her fame? Will she hide away, or will she venture out into the community she long called home? That decision rests in her hands— surely a welcome change after four years behind bars.

WATCH: Amanda Knox Reacts as Her Sentence is Overturned

Tim Newcomb is a contributor for TIME. Find him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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