TAMPA, Fla. - Country music fans are mourning the loss of singer Mindy McCready while family and friends wonder what will happen to her two young sons.
Recently court-ordered to mental health and substance abuse rehabilitation, McCready lost custody of both Zander, 6, and 9-month-old Zayne.
McCready had just regained custody of Zander, who spent much of his young life in custody of the state of Florida. As soon as news broke that a judge took the boys away while McCready entered another rehab, Zander's father, Billy McKnight, decided to increase his efforts to gain custody of him.
"She was in turmoil," McKnight said. "She had demons that she wasn't beating and so it was constant."
McKnight, a Tampa resident, dated McCready for almost a decade. At one point, he was charged with beating her up.
But McKnight claims he's changed his ways and their son belongs here in Tampa.
"I haven't had any troubles with him. It's been a great relationship and it's going to be a great one again," said McKnight. "I have a home. I can provide for him. I'm stable. He'll know his family. He'll be in a good school."
McCready's attorney, Therese Truelove, doesn't buy it.
"She repeatedly told me that he threatened her on regular occasions and told her she would pay for taking his son from him," Truelove said. "And it just seemed like every time something went bad with Mindy, he'd capitalize on it for his own personal good."
Truelove helped McCready win custody of young Zander a few months ago, and she believes McKnight's increased pressure to reverse the decision in his favor may have sent McCready over the edge.
"I'd rather die than Billy have my child,' 'He's dangerous', 'He doesn't want anything to do with his other children, why mine?'" Truelove remembers McCready saying. "Obviously, there was a reason Zander was in state custody in Florida for a significant period of time. If he wanted to be a father, or wanted to be a part of Zander's life, he could have taken steps, just like Ms. McCready was taking."
Truelove says the singer, though troubled, loved her boys. She blames McCready's decision to abduct Zander to Arkansas in 2011 on her desire to protect him from McKnight.
When asked why the state awarded custody to McCready instead of him, McKnight responded that a gag order is keeping him from spilling details he is dying to share.
According to McKnight, Mindy's harsh words toward him were always a show, but a show that ended tragically, and perhaps, inevitably.
"First thing I could think about was my son, how devastating this is going to be for him. It's horrific," McKnight said. "Praise God that at least they're safe."