It was six years ago that Amanda Knox left the University of Washington and her hometown of Seattle for a year abroad in Perugia, a walled medieval town tucked into the hills of Umbria, a hundred miles north of Rome, Italy.
She was just 20 when she left for the study-abroad program she hoped would provide her with the sort of experiences she imagined she would need to become a wordly adult.
When she boarded her flight to Europe in August 2007, Knox didn't know she would not see her home again for more than four years, that she would be accused and convicted of murder.
And, she tells KING 5's Linda Byron, she had no idea just how many people in her hometown were pulling for her, following the Kafka-esque twists and turns of her legal fight, defending her online and in the media against a prosecutor's bizarre theory of a sex game turned to murder.
Two years after Knox returned home to Seattle, she says she's still blown away by the response she got from her fellow Seattle-ites when she finally touched down at Sea-Tac that October afternoon in 2011. Only now is she sharing her story of what those first days were like and how she still feels largely supported and protected by the Seattle community.
"When I came home, I did not expect the welcome that I received. Not because I expected worse, but because I didn't know what to expect," she told KING 5's Linda Byron during a two hour interview on the University of Washington campus.
When Knox arrived at Sea-Tac on Oct. 4, 2011, she found herself speaking to a room packed with journalists and supporters. She joked that her family had to remind her to speak to the assembled media in English after four years speaking Italian nonstop in the Perugia jail and courtroom.
"Looking down from the airplaine, it seemed like everything wasn't real. I want to thank everyone who's believed in me, who's defended me, who's suported my family. My family is the most important thing to me right now, and I just want to go be with them. Thank you for being there for me," she said at the Sea-Tac press conference.
Today, Knox recalls that she didn't know if the people of Seattle believed in her innocence: "I did not expect Easy Street Records to have a sign that read, 'Welcome Home Amanda.'"
Her surprise at the welcome she received is easy to understand given what she had just been through in Italy -- villified as an angel-faced party girl who had murdered her British roommate Meredith Kercher after a drug-fueled sex game.
Kercher and Knox had been roommates for just two months when Kercher's body was found at the Perugia home the girls shared with two Italian women.
Prosecutors quickly zeroed in on Knox and her boyfriend, Raffaele Sollecito.
"They find a young woman a beautiful young woman stripped of her clothing, murdered, in a position that looks like she was sexually violated. And they took that information and tried to fit another young woman into the scenario," Knox said. "And the only way you do that is to create a person of evil who is capable of doing that to their own friend. ... They had to make up a person and make that person be me."
Knox told investigators that she had spent the night at Sollecito's apartment. For five days, investigators quizzed and interrogated a naive Knox.
"I didn't understand that they suspected me. I never would have imagined that the suspected me. I literally thought that the reason I was there was that I was the closest person to Meredith," Knox said.
Even after she went on trial for murder, Knox refused to believe she would ever be locked up. "No matter how bad things seemed, it still didn't change the fact that I didn't kill my friend, and so I couldn't be found guilty."
So, unsurprisingly, her conviction in December 2009 was an emotional blow. "And then I was found guilty and I plummeted into despair of understanding they said a 26-year sentence."
While she waited for her appeal in Italy, friends and strangers came to Knox's defense at home. Sen. Maria Cantwell challenged the verdict, saying the prosecution failed to present sufficient evidence to prove Knox's guilt. Lawyers, scientists and experienced investigators studied the Italian investigation, finding evidence of mishandled evidence and possible contamination of the crime scene. One former FBI agent said Knox had been bullied into confessing.
A Seattle judge, Mike Heavey, got himself in trouble by sending critical letters to Italian officials that accused the prosecution of poisoning the jury by leaking false information.
"My mom would tell me that sometimes people would recognize her and give her a hug. ... But as far as a movement of support, I didn't know what that looked like and I didn't quite know the extent of it." Knox said that while in prison she was largely limited to watching Italian television coverage of her case, which often portrayed her as the angel faced devil prosecutors alleged her to be.
Paradoxically, even as the appeals trial began tilting in Knox's favor in the summer of 2011, she said she spiraled into despair.
"I was plastered in hives, stress hives. I was having panic attacks," she said. "I was a wreck up until that point because I was afraid to even hope. The funny thing is, you can't help but hope."
After court-appointed experts pronounced the forensic evidence flawed and inconclusive, Knox was still unable to be optimistic.
"Certain people looked at me [and] said, 'Why aren't happy, don't you know that you're going to be acquitted?'" Knox said, recalling her thought at the time: "I was like, 'I never should have been here, so how can I be sure of anything?'"
Knox said being set free in October 2011 "led to a rush" that lasted for days after she returned home. "I did not sleep for a week. I went home on the airplane [and] I did not sleep. I got home [and] was with my family [and] I did not sleep. Everyone kept wondering when I was going to eat and sleep and I just didn't ... I was not hungry, I was not tired. I was alive and I was free."
Knox was free of her Italian jail cell, but not of paparazzi who stalked her movements in Seattle, feeding photographs back to tabloids in Britain and Italy where public sentiment still held that Knox was somehow involved in Kercher's death.
Once again, Knox said, her hometown came to her aid. "I did not expect random people to get in the way of paparazzi chasing me through the grocery store. There were people I did knot know who were protecting me," she said.
Knox has largely led a quiet life in Seattle, stepping into the media spotlight last spring to promote her memoir and again recently as she goes on trial for a third time for Kercher's murder. She's back at the University of Washington and says other students largely treat her like anyone else, allowing her to blend into the city she feared she would never see again.
"I want to say thank you to Seattle for that. Because this is where I am from, this is my home, this is where I feel safe!"
But the happy ending to Knox's ordeal when she returned to Seattle in 2011 got shaken up earlier this year when the Italian Supreme Court overturned the appeal that set her free, ordering her and Sollecito to stand trial again for Kercher's murder. That trial began in Florence on Sept. 30.