Amanda Knox Got Wild Farewell From Inmates

Knox's elaborate departure was dubbed Operation Return to Freedom.

October 04, 2011, 6:25 AM

PERUGIA, Italy, Oct. 4, 2011— -- Amanda Knox's last hours in Italy were marked by a wild hero's welcome at the prison where she spent the past four years, a James Bond-like car ride to elude pursuing media and a police escort to her plane out of Italy.

Knox's departure was carefully plotted by the USA Italy Foundation in an operation dubbed Return to Freedom, Corrado Maria Daclon, secretary general of the USA Italy Foundation, told ABC News.

"The foundation had been working on the plans to get Amanda out of jail for 20 days, carefully studying how to get her out of jail, her arrival in Rome, transfer to the airport, her arrival and transit through nonpublic area of the airport," Daclon said.

The last leg of the departure plan, he said, was "a 12-man police escort to get her through the airport."

Once at the airport, Knox gave Daclon a big hug for his help.

"She is very tired. ... It's a mix of emotions ...," Daclon said. "Tired by this long limbo of a year's appeal trial ... the uncertainty of the result made her more tense and she was very worried."

He said that Knox said nothing when they departed. "We just hugged and looked at each other."

Knox is flying home today and is secluded on an upper deck of her flight to Seattle. Her family is expected to hold a news conference when they arrive in Seattle tonight, but it's not clear whether Knox will speak.

What wasn't in Daclon's plans was the raucous greeting Knox received when she returned to Capanne prison following her stunning acquittal on murder charges by an Italian appeals court. Knox and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito spent four years in the prison for the murder of British exchange student Meredith Kercher before they were acquitted Monday.

"All the prisoners, 500 or 600 of them, started to greet Amanda from the windows, like soccer stardom," Daclon said. "It's difficult to describe the happiness of them seeing Amanda and greeting her and seeing her free now -- yelling, 'Oh, wow, ciao Amanda!' It was really, really incredible emotion."

Daclon said Knox walked back into the prison through its central square, surrounded by blocks and blocks of prison buildings with small windows. Two to three prisoners crammed into each small window, cheering and waving clothing in the air, like flags.

"All the prison was greeting her like a champion," he said.

An elated Knox returned the greeting.

"She was moved and jumped two times to greet them. She was so touched, you can't imagine," Corrado said.

Knox walked through the cheers to collect her belongings from her cell. She then bid farewell to her cellmate and the other girls and some of the police guards, he said.

"They always said that Amanda is a model prisoner, perfect. Never one argument in four years, never one problem with guards or other prisoners. The perfect behavior. ... But I didn't expect a reaction like this," he said.

"Imagine, to see so many people, like a Hollywood movie, looking out of the windows, greeting Amanda and waving clothes. She was moved, like us, to see a show like this," he said.

Corrado accompanied Knox out of the prison and into a waiting car, which took them through a swarm of 100 paparazzi, he said.

"We had a very fast car. ... It was just us two and driver in the car," he said.

They were trailed by a convoy of paparazzi on motorcycles, so they sped off on a country road, changing directions several times until they lost the media. Once they were alone on the road, they headed for Rome.

"We met up with the rest of the family along the way," Daclon said . About 15 family members and friends accompanied Knox to Rome.

"She spent the night in a protected place. It was not a public place, in the area of Rome. Not a hotel as she would have been discovered immediately when she had to hand in her passport to be registered," he said.

Knox and her mother, Edda Mellas, stayed together while the rest of the family registered at a hotel. Daclon picked up Knox again this morning at 8:30 a.m. and headed for the airport.

Knox thanked Daclon in a letter released today.

"To hold my hand and offer the support and respect through the barriers and controversies of the Italians. There was the Italy USA Foundation, and many who have shared my pain and helped me to survive on hope," Knox wrote.

"I am forever grateful for their caring hospitality and their courageous efforts. Those who wrote to me, who defended me, who stayed close to me, who prayed for me. We are forever grateful. I love you. Amanda," the letter read.

"She told me that she has nothing against Italy and the Italians. She is just upset about the judicial mistake, but she has said she will come back to Italy," Daclon said she told him early today.

Knox and Sollecito were convicted in December 2009 of killing Knox's roommate Meredith Kercher in a 2007 attack that left the British exchange student partially nude and bleeding to death from a slashed throat. Sollecito was also acquitted of the murder.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events