A battle for the custody of Michael Jackson's three children began brewing between the children's nanny and grandmother just hours after the pop singer was pronounced dead Thursday, according to a Jackson biographer and family friend.
The children, when previously seen in public, were always at their father's side, regularly wearing pint-sized versions of Jackson's trademark surgical mask, or shrouds over their heads to conceal their identities.
As Jackson's behavior became increasingly bizarre over the years, public scrutiny focused on the children, particularly after Jackson dangled his infant son from a hotel balcony and allegations surfaced that the singer had molested other children.
Jackson was often criticized for treating his children like accessories, human additions to a menagerie that included a chimpanzee and a boa constrictor. Despite thousands of photos taken by the paparazzi and fans over years, the faces of the Jackson children have only been seen publicly a handful of times.
Police have not yet confirmed whether the children were at home with Jackson Thursday when he collapsed following a cardiac arrest.
According to Jackson's manager Frank DiLeo, the children are currently with their grandmother Katherine Jackson and are "devastated" by their father's loss.
"Michael's mother Katherine wants the kids," said Stacey Brown, co- author of "Michael Jackson Behind the Mask" and an old family friend. "But Michael always said he wants Grace, the nanny, to have them if something happened to him."
Grace, is Grace Rwaramba, 42, who has worked for Jackson for nearly two decades, starting as an office assistant who handled insurance for his employees.
Over time, observers say Rwaramba has taken an increasingly central role in lives of Jackson and his children. Jackson and Rwaramba were even rumored to be considering marriage in 2006. In 2008 she testified in Jackson's defense during a breach-of-contract trial brought against the singer by a Middle Eastern sheik.
Mark Lester, the children's godfather, said he would be willing to adopt the children but doubted the family would allow him.
"If called to do so of course I would. Michael has a large family. I'm sure the children will be well looked after... This is early days here. I extend my arms out to them, but they're American kids and I'm sure the family network will have put something in place," said Lester who is British.
"The kids were everything to Michael. They were his whole life," Lester added.
Who will take possession of the children is the latest in a series of questions that have surrounded Jackson's children -- regarding their conception, paternity and the way in which their father has raised them, since his first son's birth in 1997.
That son is Prince Michael Jr., 12, who along with daughter Paris Katherine, 11, were born to Debbie Rowe, a nurse in the office of Jackson's dermatologist Dr. Arnold Klein.
In February 2008, Rowe told British newspaper the Daily Mail that she had been artificially inseminated but would not give details concerning whether the sperm used belonged to Jackson or another man.
In photographs, the children appear to have distinctly white skin.
The couple were briefly married following Prince's conception, but divorced six months after Paris' birth. Rowe gave Jackson custody of the children, but sued him in 2006 for breach of contract in an attempt to regain custody. The pair settled out of court for undisclosed terms and Jackson retained custody.
According to Brown, the Jackson family believes Rowe will again try to gain custody of her children.
Rowe's lawyer, Iris Finsilver, would not comment on whether Jackson's ex-wife would try to get custody of the children after Jackson's death, saying only: "Debbie is absolutely inconsolable."
In 2001, Jackson had a third child, a son named Prince Michael II, better known as Blanket, who was carried by a surrogate mother whose name has not be released.
Jackson later admitted making a "terrible mistake" when he dangled his infant son over a hotel balcony in Berlin as he greeted screaming fans.
A year after, following a stunning admission in a television interview that Jackson invited an unrelated adolescent boy to share his bed and offered him wine -- which he called "Jesus juice" -- the pop star was accused of molesting the child.
In between the interview and the 2005 molestation trial, California state child welfare officials interviewed Jackson's children and Rwaramba, the nanny originally from Rwanda.
Jackson was acquitted of the charges in the trial. No further molestation charges were brought against him and he retained custody of his children.
During the investigation, Jackson's parents Joe and Katherine told ABC's Barbara Walters that they were concerned officials would attempt to take away the children. They offered to adopt the children, should the singer lose custody of them.
According to Brown, the parents are again looking to adopt the children but Jackson said he wanted Grace Rwaramba to have custody.
"Michael's wishes were known. He wants Grace to have the kids. They love her," Brown said.
"If the kids had the choice," Brown said, "I think they'd pick Grace."
Before his death, Jackson was in regular contact with his mother but had a notoriously contentious relationship with his father.
Following his acquittal in the molestation trial, Jackson, Rwaramba and the children moved to Bahrain and then later to Ireland.
According to a 2006 profile in the Daily Mail, Rwaramba had become Jackson's closest confidant and gate-keeper, screening his phone calls and setting up meetings.