SEBASTIAN, Fla. - Kelley Hunt Smith of Florida said it's been a nightmare since her daughter, 18-year-old Kaitlyn Hunt, was arrested on a charge of "lewd and lascivious battery of a child 12 to 16 years old."
"She's scared to death, she can't sleep," said Smith, from her and Kaitlyn's Sebastian home on Sunday night.
Smith said Kaitlyn became friends with an underage female student at Sebastian River High School at the beginning of the school year and later began dating. Smith said she never considered the implications of the relationship.
Soon after the beginning of the relations, the parents of Kaitlyn's 15-year-old girlfriend pressed charges. The girlfriend's family petitioned the school board, which led to Katilyn's expulsion just weeks before her graduation. This decision was made in spite of a judge declaring she could continue to attend school as long as she didn't have contact with the girl, according to an article from The Examiner .
"Kailtyn's girlfriend's parents are pressing charges because they are against the same-sex relationship, even though their daughter has stated that this is a consensual relationship," read a post about Kaitlyn on their change.org page . "The two girls began dating while Kaitlyn was 17 but her girlfriend's parents blamed Kailtyn for their daughter's homosexuality. They waited until after Kaitlyn turned 18 and went to the police to have charges brought against her."
Smith said she hopes what she calls "overwhelming" online support could somehow help drop the charges against her daughter, a former cheerleader and basketball player.
Their family's "Free Kate" Facebook page has more than 18,000 members, and their change.org petition has more than 50,000 signatures as of Monday morning. Also, a "Free Kate" website provides information about the case and instructions to donate money to help alleviate the family's more than $50,000 in legal fees.
"I just put our story out there on Friday," Smith said. "I wanted people to know what was going on. Within 30 minutes, I had so many outpouring support. On Saturday evening, we crashed the change.org website. The president of change.org contacted us personally."
Smith said that they support has helped her gain perspective.
"I wondered if I was crazy, if it was only because I'm a mom. But I wondered if anyone else thought, like me, that this was wrong and unjust. Apparently, they do," she said.
Smith spent all Sunday morning passing out 1,000 "STOP THE HATE, SAVE KATE" green bracelets. She is hoping the attention could help to avoid a trial.
"It's not something I want for my daughter, and it's not something I want for the other girl," said Smith.
Smith said the relationship was consensual. She questions why the parents of Kaitlyn's girlfriend chose to press charges.
"You get with me, and say, 'Hey, as a mom, this is going on and I don't like this, let's talk about this,'" said Smith. "I would have sat down with her, I would have sat down with our children, and I would have nipped it in the bud, and I would have respected her."
The state attorney's office has offered Kaitlyn a plea deal, which would include two years of house arrest.
Smith said she doesn't feel Kaitlyn deserves the penalty if they don't accept, and they lose her case. She denies her daughter's actions were criminal.
"She would have a lifetime sexual offender on her record," said Smith. "She would not be able to, we think we all know what that means. It's a death sentence for her, her life would be over at 18."
Smith said her daughter was seeking a partner and that she didn't know she was doing anything wrong.
"Kaitlyn would not hurt a fly," Smith said. "She didn't know what she was doing was 'wrong' or illegal. There was no intent to hurt anybody or commit a crime. I know that's not an excuse for the letter of the law, but it's reality."
WCPO Digital's Sarah Beth Hensley contributed to this report.