Family Matters

Amanda Knox’s Family: How They Kept a United, Unconditional Front

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Stephen Brashear / Getty Images

Amanda Knox before speaking to the media on October 4, 2011 in Seattle, Washington.

As parents, we believe we’d do anything for our children. But not often does that sentiment get as rigorously tested as in the unfortunate experience of Edda Mellas and Curt Knox, Amanda Knox’s mother and father.

Divorced when Knox was 10 and both remarried, they teamed up to make sure their daughter — freed from an Italian prison on Monday after a jury in Perugia absolved her of murdering her British roommate, Meredith Kercher — was constantly bolstered by her family’s love. Through a complex algorithm involving donated airline miles, vacation and sick time, the family coordinated schedules so that one relative or another was always stationed in Italy to spend time with Knox, now 24, during the handful of visits she was allowed weekly.

MORE: Why There Will Always Be Three Amanda Knoxes

They were there so often during the four years Knox spent behind bars that they rented an Italian farmhouse and bought a jalopy. Back home, they piled into Mellas’ West Seattle kitchen to await the weekly phone call that Knox was allowed to make from prison. In the course of depleting bank accounts and taking out second mortgages, they’ve racked up legal bills in excess of $1 million, according to the Seattle Times. But what’s money when you’ve got your kid back?

“When it’s your child, you’ll go to the end of the earth for them,” says Pamela Van Swearingen, a Seattle attorney who offered advice on legal options, including a possible review by the European Court of Human Rights. “I don’t think she would have her freedom if they hadn’t done all they could.”

LIST: Top Tweets About the Amanda Knox Verdict

Knox arrived home Tuesday evening. Surrounded by relatives, she spoke tearfully at a press conference outside the Seattle airport of being overwhelmed with gratitude. “What’s important for me to say is just thank you to everyone who’s believed in me, who’s defended me, who’s supported my family,” said Knox, who had to be reminded to speak in English instead of Italian. “My family is the most important thing to me right now, and I just want to go be with them.”

Knox’s family has been propped up by Friends of Amanda, a grassroots advocacy group started in the spring of 2008 by Tom Wright, whose daughter, Sarah, attended high school with Knox. When Knox was arrested, Sarah showed her father her senior yearbook from Seattle Prep in which Knox had written a heartfelt message. “Essentially she wrote, If anything ever happened and I needed someone to watch my back, it would be you,” says Wright. “Sarah said, Dad, we’ve got to do something.”

Fueled by what Wright calls the “heroism” of the Knox family, Friends of Amanda mobilized a corps of Seattle Prep parents to raise money and maintain a site “devoted to the truth about Amanda and the charges against her.” Alongside pictures of a 7-year-old Knox smiling in a Minnie Mouse birthday hat, parents compiled links to evidence that they say show how trumped-up the charges against her were. The group, which raised $80,000, was the parents’ way of acknowledging that the nightmare Knox’s parents were living could befall any one of them. “They were inspiring to all of us,” says Wright.

PHOTOS: Who’s Who in the Amanda Knox Trial

The groundswell of support Knox received stands in stark contrast to the hostile interactions of another high-profile defendant, Casey Anthony, with her own parents. Anthony’s mother and father made it clear they weren’t convinced that their daughter was blameless in the death of their granddaughter, Caylee.

Knox’s parents, on the other hand, never doubted their daughter’s innocence. That’s typical of most parents of children accused of controversial crimes, says Craig Haney, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who studies how people are affected by imprisonment. “In most instances when there is doubt that surrounds the case, the family operates as if the loved one is unjustly accused,” says Haney. “They don’t actively entertain the possibility that’s not the case.”

That kind of united, unconditional front demanded an intensity of faith that required Knox’s parents to essentially put their lives on hold. Now, just like their daughter, they’ll slowly have to ease back into life as usual. “It’s like living in suspended animation,” says Haney. “They have been actively working to win her release for so long that they too will go through a transition of returning to the lives they used to live.”

MORE: Could Amanda Knox Have an Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Apparently they’ll do the hard work of reacclimating together. In a few days, says Wright, Knox and her family will decamp for six months or so, to an undisclosed favorite outdoorsy spot “to heal and reassess what’s going on.”

“She has said publicly that her fondest wish is to run someplace barefoot in the grass,” says Wright, “so they are going to do just that.”

Bonnie Rochman is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @brochman. You can also continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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