Law enforcement officials found country singer Mindy McCready and her 5-year-old son Zander hiding in the closet of her boyfriend's Heber Spings, Ark. home, noting the young boy is in custody and safe, Friday night.
"I'm real excited that he's safe," said Gayle Inge, McCready's mother and the boy's legal guardian. "But I can't explain what this is like. We feel for Mindy and we feel for Zander."
McCready said Thursday she would not bring her son back to Florida, where Inge lives, despite violating a custody arrangement and a judge's order. And she seems prepared to be locked up for it.
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"I'm a mom first," McCready told the Associated Press. "No matter what happens, I'm going to protect my kid. If I have to go to jail, so be it."
Terri Durdaller, a Florida Department of Children and Families spokeswoman, told the AP Friday night authorities there were working with officials in Arkansas to return Zander to his grandmother.
McCready took the boy during a recent visit at her father's southwest Florida home and a judge signed an order Thursday ordering authorities to take the boy into custody and return him.
"I'm doing all this to protect Zander, not stay out of trouble," McCready wrote in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday. "I don't think I should be in trouble for protecting my son in the first place."
McCready and her mother have had a long custody battle over the boy. Until recently, the boy was living with McCready's mother. Her mother was awarded guardianship in 2007. McCready says her son has suffered abuse at her mother's house; her mother, Gayle Inge, denies the abuse allegations.
"Once the child is located, we will pick him up and bring him back to Florida," said Durdaller. "Although these circumstances are unfortunate for a young child, his safety and well-being are our number one priority."
Durdaller said any criminal charges would come at the discretion of law enforcement or the Lee County (Fla.) State Attorney's office.
McCready provided a series of emails to the AP with Lee County Judge James Seals' ruling to return the boy and correspondence with her attorney. Seals wrote to McCready's lawyer that once the boy is back in Florida "we'll pick up the pieces."
"Mom has violated the court's custody order and we are simply restoring the child back into our custody," the judge wrote. "Nothing more. Nothing less. The court makes no judgment about whether Mom will or will not competently care for the child while in her custody. It only wants the child back where the court placed him."
McCready was born in Florida and found fame in Nashville as a singer in the mid-1990s, including a No. 1 hit, "Guys Do It All the Time." She has lived a complicated life in recent years.
In August, she filed the libel suit in Palm Beach County against her mother and the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc., over a story published in the tabloid newspaper that quoted Inge.
In July 2007, she was accused of scuffling with Inge and resisting arrest at her mother's home in Florida. She was sentenced to jail for 60 days for a probation violation and released; she served 30 days in jail. She also lost custody of her son.
And in 2008, McCready was admitted to a Nashville hospital after police said she cut her wrists and took several pills in a suicide attempt.
During the TV show "Celebrity Rehab 3" in 2010, McCready came off as a sympathetic figure, and host Dr. Drew Pinsky called her an angel in the season finale.
Also in 2010, police went to Inge's home for a report of an overdose, and McCready was taken to a Florida hospital. However, neither the hospital nor McCready's publicist would say why the singer was hospitalized.
McCready also fought the release of a tape in which she reportedly talked about former Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens, with whom she had an affair as a teenager.