Singer Mindy McCready's 5-year-old son in custody

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -December 3, 2011

Since her emergence in the mid-1990s as a honey-voiced success story out of Nashville, McCready has been increasingly known for her personal foibles instead of her music.

This week's custody battle was the latest in a long saga of personal heartache and brushes with the law.

Florida Department of Children and Families spokeswoman Terri Durdaller wrote in an email Saturday that her agency was working with Arkansas state officials to bring McCready's son, Zander, back to her legal guardian in Florida. His maternal grandmother has been Zander's guardian since 2007.

Officials say he's safe and in good health.

"Zander is in Arkansas and we continue to arrange his swift arrival back to Florida," Durdaller wrote.

In Arkansas, Cleburne County Sheriff Marty Moss said Saturday that McCready didn't have permission to be in the unoccupied summer home where she was found Friday evening with her son. Authorities continue to investigate the matter, he said.

The sheriff's office said in a news release Saturday that it was known McCready had been a visitor to the area and that deputies were working with the U.S. Marshals Service to see if the singer might be there. Authorities located McCready after receiving a report of "possible occupants in a summer home that was supposed to be unoccupied," the news release said.

Authorities said officers entered the home and found McCready and her son in a bedroom closet. A man, David Wilson, was also in the residence. Moss said neither had permission to be in the residence, but neither was arrested at the time.

Moss told the Associated Press on Saturday that the house where all three were found is next door to one where Wilson has stayed in the past. He said he doesn't know if McCready is still in the area and doesn't expect that she will face any charges for being at the unoccupied home.

"I don't expect that to happen," Moss said.

Gayle Inge, Zander's grandmother and McCready's mother, was tearful when she talked about the news by phone Friday night with The Associated Press.

"I'm real excited that he's safe," she said. "But I can't explain what this is like. We feel for Mindy and we feel for Zander."

Inge said that her son - McCready's half-brother - texted McCready, who responded with a text that said her mother would never see her again.

"I want to wrap my arms around her and tell her that I love her," Inge said.

McCready, who turned 36 on Wednesday, did not respond to emails Friday and Saturday.

The weekend developments capped a days-long struggle between McCready and several others, including state of Florida child welfare authorities, a Fort Myers, Fla. judge and her own mother.

Authorities say McCready took the boy during a visit late last month to her father's southwest Florida home, where she was allowed to visit the boy. McCready's parents are divorced.

A Florida judge signed an order Thursday telling authorities to take the boy into custody and return him. It's not yet clear whether the singer could face criminal charges.

McCready said earlier in the week that she would not bring her son back from Tennessee, where she has a home, despite violating the custody arrangement. She told the AP that her son had suffered abuse at her mother's house, a claim that Inge vehemently denies.

"I'm doing all this to protect Zander, not stay out of trouble," McCready wrote in an email to the AP on Thursday. "I don't think I should be in trouble for protecting my son in the first place."

McCready told the AP Wednesday night she was in Tennessee and couldn't travel because she is seven months pregnant with twins.

The boy's father, Billy McKnight, told NBC's "Today" show Friday he spoke on the phone with McCready and their boy after the judge's Thursday deadline expired.

"He did sound healthy and OK. He wasn't crying or scared," McKnight said about their son.

"I think she believes she has a case and doesn't realize she's pushing her luck on this one," he said.

McCready and her mother have had a long custody battle over the boy, who was living with McCready's mother.

The singer had provided a series of emails to the AP with Lee County Judge James Seals' ruling to return the boy.

"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 found fame in the mid-1990s when she moved to Nashville at the age of 18, armed with only her karaoke tapes. Her first album, "Ten Thousand Angels," sold two million copies.

Her next four albums weren't as successful. Her personal troubles began encroaching on her professional success. According to her website, she suffers from severe depression.

McCready 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.

In August, she filed a libel suit against her mother and the National Enquirer's parent company, American Media Inc., over a story published in the tabloid newspaper that quoted Inge.

And in 2008, McCready was admitted to a 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.

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