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Nancy Kerrigan Standing by Her Brother

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In Vancouver for her stint as an Olympic correspondent, Nancy Kerrigan took a break Feb. 13 to check out the Ralph Lauren boutique in USA House with husband Jerry Solomon as if she hadn’t a care in the world. “They bought tons of stuff” for their kids, including Team USA opening ceremony knit hats, an observer tells PEOPLE. “Nancy was really sweet to everyone. She was having a good time.”

It was a welcome break for Kerrigan, who a family friend says is “crushed” by the ever-worsening drama surrounding the Jan. 24 death of her dad, Daniel Kerrigan, 70. Nancy’s brother Mark, already charged with assault and battery after a fight in their Stoneham, Mass., home in which, police say, he wrapped his hands around his father’s throat (he pleaded not guilty), now could face even stiffer charges after a Massachusetts medical examiner ruled Dan’s death a homicide—a result, the coroner says, of a heart-rhythm problem triggered by a larynx injury sustained during the fight (see box). “No one wants to believe Mark killed their dad or was capable of killing,” the friend says.

So Kerrigan, 40, and her family—mom Brenda, 70, and brother Michael, 43—have stood squarely behind Mark, 45, and are determined to help him any way they can. In an e-mail to friends and family, Kerrigan called the homicide ruling an “unjustified” one that “we plan to help my brother fight.” Even as Kerrigan prepared for her Olympic gig, Olympic skater and pal Paul Wylie tells PEOPLE that she was making the 90-minute trip from her Stoneham home to Bridgewater State Hospital, where Mark is undergoing a 30-day psychiatric evaluation, which ends soon. “She’s been visiting as much as she can,” says Wylie. “Nancy said, ‘He’s all alone.’ She’s worried for him.”

Kerrigan friends say their unwavering devotion to Mark is no surprise. “This is a family that sticks together,” says Olympic skater Lloyd Eisler. Over the years, Mark, an unemployed plumber, struggled with alcohol abuse and served a two-year jail stint for attacking his ex-wife Janet Guarino Kerrigan—but his family remained loyal, even pleading with authorities on his behalf. “He has always been there for me,” Nancy wrote the judge before his 2007 sentencing.

Though some who know the family believe they are in denial about Mark’s situation, Nancy’s friend, author John Michael Williams, insists her heart is in the right place. “Nancy is the most honest and direct person I know, and if she believed her brother tried to kill her father, she’d be the first to say, ‘Lock him up.'”

Meanwhile, with the steely resolve that won her a silver medal in the 1994 Olympics after the infamous Tonya Harding-linked knee-whacking, Nancy is trying to move forward as best she can. “[We] all have to keep going,” she said in her e-mail. “I know that is exactly what my dad would have wanted us to do.”