It’s a strange experience when an global media explosion happens in practically your own backyard. That happened last week when Amanda Knox was cleared of murder charges in Italy and arrived at Sea-Tac on Tuesday. Suddenly, every reporter around the world was talking about Seattle.

Knox hasn’t been the only big local news story as of late. There’s also the never-ending and increasingly bizarre soap opera revolving around Puyallup’s Josh Powell, his missing wife, porn-loving father and two young sons. For me, following the Powell story – especially the recent ruling which took custody of the children away from Josh — was a similar experience to tracking the events of Knox’s vindication and release. Since these families are local, I’m more emotionally invested.

Logically, I know this doesn’t make much sense. Location is fairly irrelevant these days. I don’t know Amanda or her family or anyone who does. And I’ve probably only been in West Seattle a few times. But somehow the fact that she’s a Seattle girl transformed the story from abstract to concrete. She went to Seattle Prep. She’s probably played soccer on the same fields my kids do. Amanda could have been my daughter (If I was much, much older, obviously).

This identification with Seattleites was an unexpected turning point for me. For maybe the first time, I instinctively considered myself part of this greater community, instead of a recent transplant. I automatically think of Amanda as one of us, not one of them. And when Gawker made a crack about how they supposed “even Seattle is better than an Italian prison,” I wanted to smack some heads. Not that long ago, I would have been snickering along with them. It rained the day after Knox arrived home, and I thought these gray, misty skies of ours probably never looked so spectacularly beautiful to anyone as they did to her that day.

I suppose this investment in international-turned-local stories is a good thing. Empathy can’t be bad, no matter how illogical the reason. Civilized society tends to unravel when we disconnect from others, impersonalizing their tragedies so they’re less painful for us.

And here’s another bright spot to my mild obsession with the case: the whole episode made me acutely fond of the old US of A. Before everyone starts sending me emails about Troy Davis, of course injustices happen all the time. But what’s with this insanity about Italians holding Knox for a year before charging her with a crime. We get to have a lawyer present during questioning and can’t be beaten over the head or such forced confessions become inadmissible. And double jeopardy? Brilliant idea. Despite being found innocent, Knox could still be retried in Italy. Even her appeals case was a game of Russian roulette: Prosecutors upped the ante from the 26-year sentence she’d already been given and went for life in prison instead.

As for Amanda, I have a feeling she’s going to be just fine. Eventually the paparazzi will drift away and she’ll get on with her life. With her mature, level-headed attitude and strong family network, she’ll likely rise above this tragic event much like Elizabeth Smart did after her kidnapping. While I’m sure there will always be people who doubt Knox’s innocence and want to argue points of the case, I hope people will eventually leave her alone.

Because I just keep thinking, what if she were my daughter?

(Ed. Note: This week’s entry in the Welcome to The Rock column is the penultimate installment of the series. Tune in two weeks from now — Oct. 25 —to find out what Michelle has in store for her future.)

About this column: Michelle Bowers is a magazine writer who recently moved to Mercer Island from Connecticut with her husband and two young children. This column follows her discoveries and experiences as she learns about life on ‘The Rock’. Her blog can be found at Topics:Amanda Knox, Mercer Island Welcome to The Rock, Michelle Bowers, and Welcome to the Rock