June 26, 2009— -- 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.