News of Hunter and Hallie Biden‘s romance has captured the nation’s attention in recent weeks. Now, family and friends of the couple are speaking out about how the two supported each other through the brutal cancer battle fought by Hunter’s brother and Hallie’s husband Beau Biden.
“Hallie and Hunt, the whole time Beau was dealing with his cancer, the two of them were really a team together,” family friend Rob Buccini tells PEOPLE.
Beau died at age 46 in May 2015, leaving behind Hallie and their two children, Natalie, 12, and Hunter, 10. On March 1, Hunter, 47, confirmed his romance with Hallie, 43.
In October 2015, Hunter and his wife of 23 years, Kathleen, formally separated.
“[Hallie and Hunter] went to all the doctor appointments together when Beau first got sick,” says Buccini, who has known the Biden family since childhood. “You obviously develop a bond. This isn’t something that happened while he was sick, it came as a result of being in the trenches together for three years . . . They didn’t intend [for] this, obviously, to happen.”
Hunter and Kathleen are in the midst of a bitter divorce, with Kathleen claiming that Hunter spent extravagantly on drugs and prostitutes in court filings. (Both parties declined to comment to PEOPLE.) Buccini says of the allegations in the court papers, “that’s not the Hunter I know.”
Joe and Jill Biden have voiced their full support for Hallie and Hunter’s romance, telling the New York Post,“We are all lucky that Hunter and Hallie found each other as they were putting their lives together again after such sadness.”
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Although the pair’s relationship has prompted some raised eyebrows, Hunter’s childhood friend Lea Carpenter tells PEOPLE that anyone criticizing the love birds “doesn’t understand the Biden family.”
“Anyone moved to judgment now has no knowledge of the grace and strength with which Hunter and Hallie have navigated the last four years,” Carpenter says.
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Buccini too speaks highly of the family, noting that Hunter and Hallie were the two people Beau “loved and trusted the most, and sought guidance from.”
“I am happy that the two of them have found happiness after three plus years of really painful times,” he says.