By Laura L. Myers

SEATTLE (Reuters) - A tearful and "overwhelmed" Amanda Knox returned home to Seattle on Tuesday, a day after an Italian appeals court cleared her of murder, and said she just wanted to spend time with her family.

A plane carrying Knox, who grew up in the close-knit West Seattle neighborhood where both of her divorced parents still live, landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport shortly after 5 p.m. local time.

Knox, who spent four years in prison for the murder of her housemate before she was freed by an Italian appeals court, wiped away tears as she spoke to a throng of reporters at the airport minutes after she stepped off the plane.

"They are reminding me to speak in English because I'm having trouble with that," Knox, 24, said in brief remarks. "I'm really overwhelmed right now. I was looking down from the airplane and it seemed like everything wasn't real."

Knox, a former University of Washington student, also thanked "everyone who has believed in me, who has defended me," during her ordeal.

"I just want my family. That's the most important thing to me right now, and I just want to go be with them so thank you for being here with me," she said.

Anne Bremner, a Seattle defense attorney and spokeswoman for Friends of Amanda Knox, said that, according to her family, Knox was looking forward to having a backyard barbecue, being outside in the grass, playing soccer and seeing old friends.

Knox sobbed on Monday on hearing that the court had overturned her 2009 conviction for murdering her housemate, 21-year-old Meredith Kercher, in what prosecutors had said was a drug-fueled sexual assault.

Also cleared was her former boyfriend, Rafaele Sollecito, leaving Ivorian drifter Rudy Guede as the only person convicted in a killing that investigators believe was carried out by more than one person.

PROSECUTORS PLAN APPEAL

Kercher's half-naked body was found with more than 40 wounds and a deep gash in her throat in the apartment she shared with Knox in Perugia, Italy, where both were studying.

The Italian prosecutor has said he intends to appeal Knox's acquittal to Italy's highest appellate court, Corte Suprema di Cassazione, which only can review technical errors that occurred in the lower courts.

If the Corte Suprema overturns the acquittal, it could reinstate the original murder charges against Knox, which would allow prosecutors to seek her extradition from the United States under a treaty between the two countries.

Considering the controversy surrounding the case, legal experts say there likely would be a heated diplomatic dispute before the United States would agree to extradite Knox.

Kercher's family has refrained from criticizing Knox or Sollecito but has said repeatedly that Meredith has been forgotten in the media frenzy.

Knox's supporters cheered, cried and hugged on Monday at the news that she had been released. Her home area, framed by Puget Sound waters on three sides, is one of Seattle's oldest neighborhoods and is known for its strong sense of community.

Evan Hundley, head of the private Explorer Middle School, where Knox attended sixth, seventh and eighth grades, described West Seattle as "a city within a city".

"When something happens here, it's big news," Hundley said. "We're a strong neighborhood."

Hundley said students whooped with delight during the school's daily student assembly on Monday when the news of Knox's release was announced.

Knox won the school's first Manvel Schauffler Award, named after a founder of the school, which has about 100 students who pay an annual average tuition of about $15,000, said Debbie Ehri, the school's business manager who knew Knox.

"It was our first award for our most outstanding student. Amanda was an academically strong student. She was genuinely a lovely, kind and talented student," Ehri told Reuters.

"Teachers absolutely adored her. She was just delightful to have in class," she said. "She was caring, not only with her studies, but she was a kind, lovely girl."

Knox also attended Seattle Preparatory School, a small Jesuit high school, graduating in 2005. The school organized letter-writing campaigns on her behalf and fund-raising efforts to help pay for her defense.

(Additional reporting by Nicole Neroulias in Seattle, Noleen Walder in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Greg McCune)