A smiling toddler in a white dress, her tiny feet in heels that were too big.
A young beauty with bright lipstick and carefully styled and teased hair. The happy mother celebrating her young son’s birthday.
With each photograph projected on screens in the sanctuary of Crossroads Baptist Church, Mindy McCready’s life came a little bit more in focus.
“No matter what, she will always be our little girl who sang in her car seat with a hairbrush for a microphone,” Gayle Inge, the late singer’s mother, said during McCready’s funeral in Fort Myers.
About 300 friends, fans and family members of the homegrown country music star said their final goodbyes to their “special angel” on Tuesday.
McCready, a 37-year-old mother of two young boys, was found dead Feb. 17 on the porch of her Arkansas cabin home.
Preliminary autopsy reports ruled that the troubled star, who had publicly battled addiction and other personal demons, committed suicide. She died from a single gunshot to the head about a month after her longtime boyfriend David Wilson’s death, also thought to be suicide, in the same place.
Earlier this month, authorities removed her two sons — Zander, 6, and Zayne, 10 months — from her care.
“Our Mindy was so tired,” Inge said. “She felt hopeless, and I know she wanted to be healed.”
McCready is singing for a heavenly audience now, Inge said.
“Her sweet voice is echoing all over the world,” she said.
Mary Graham, a family friend who came to the funeral, said McCready “loved her kids dearly.” She said she hopes McCready, whom she compared to an “angel,” is in a better place.
“I think she’s at peace,” Graham said.
Outside, the wind whipped the tops of palm trees under a cloudy afternoon sky. The white hearse that carried McCready’s casket to the church late that morning remained parked near the main entrance.
Inside, McCready’s coffin was at the front of the sanctuary, closed and topped with flowers. A portrait of McCready, her eyes gazing skyward, stood behind it.
As guests filed in, McCready’s music, including her hit song “Ten Thousand Angels,” filled the room with her voice. It was a voice that sold millions of albums and inspired other country singers, such as Carrie Underwood.
People formed a line in the center aisle as they waited to pay their respects to Gayle Inge, and McCready’s stepfather, Michael Inge.
At 2 p.m., the room grew silent. Michael Inge thanked everyone for coming to celebrate McCready’s “graduation into the heavenlies.”
Her younger brother, T.J. McCready, said his sister would often joke about having raised her siblings.
“You all know I grew up coming from a broken home,” he said, wiping away tears. “It makes your brothers and sisters really important to you. We used to joke about how she raised us. ... We raised each other, all of us. And she probably got us all in a lot more trouble than she got us out of.” The crowd laughed.
T.J. McCready said he was thankful that his sister always included him in her life, even after she became a celebrity.
“I could sit and tell stories for days of the things that I got to experience because of her,” he said.
Mindy McCready’s youngest brother, Skyler Phelan, said his “sissy” was everything to him and that she encouraged him to sing.
“She inspired me when she told me I was talented,” he said.
Gayle Inge, her voice soft with emotion, brought with her bracelets that she said she will give to Zander and Zayne “so their mommy can watch over them.”
“I just ask for your prayers for these boys,” she said.
McCready grew up in Fort Myers, where she took private vocal lessons and later sang in karaoke bars. She arrived in Nashville in 1994 and hit the top of the country charts before her personal problems sidetracked her career.
In 1996, McCready’s “Guys Do It All the Time” hit No. 1.
A separate funeral organized by her friends and the music community is tentatively scheduled for March 6 in Nashville, Tenn.
At the end of Tuesday’s service, McCready’s pallbearers, which included her brothers, delivered her coffin back into the white hearse. Guests walked behind them as they exited the church.
Lingering in the sanctuary a few feet from where Mindy McCready’s casket had been, Michael Inge said her family is grieving together.
“We are walking through it,” he said, “and holding each other.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report
Mindy McCready timeline
A look at Mindy McCready’s high points and low points.
1975 (Nov. 30) — Malinda Gayle McCready was born in Fort Myers.
1992 — She graduated from high school with honors at 16.
1994 — She moved to Nashville at 18 to pursue a singing career.
1995 — She signed a contract with BNA records, beating a one-year deadline imposed by her mom to get a record deal or go to college.
1997 — She became engaged to actor Dean Cain, who starred in “Superman” the TV series. The couple broke up the next year.
1997 (Nov.) — She released her second album, “If I Don’t Stay the Night.” The album, which featured singles, “You’ll Never Know,” “The Other Side of This Kiss” and “Let’s Talk About Love,” didn’t reach platinum sales.
1999 (Sept.) — McCready released third album, “I’m Not So Tough,” but not a single song reaches the Top 50, The record company cancels her contract after poor sales
2002 (March) — After signing with Capitol Records in 2001, she released her fourth album, self-titled “Mindy McCready.” The album bombed and Capitol dropped McCready later in the year.
2003 — She started dating country singer Billy McKnight.
2004 — McCready was charged with obtaining the painkiller OxyContin fraudulently at a pharmacy. She pleaded guilty and was placed on three years’ probation.
2005 (May) — She violated the probation after a drunken-driving arrest.
2005 (May) — Two days later, McKnight was accused of beating and choking McCready. He was arrested and charged with attempted murder.
2005 (July) -- McCready was hospitalized after being found unconscious in a hotel lobby in Indian Rocks Beach, Fla. She told a judge it was a suicide attempt.
2005 (Sept.) — She overdosed on antidepressants and was hospitalized again.
2006 (March) — She gave birth to her son, Zander Ryan McCready. McKnight is the father.
2007 (July) — She was accused of a drunken altercation with her mother and then with a Lee County deputy who was trying to arrest her. Two weeks later, she was arrested at the Nashville airport for violation of probation stemming from her 2004 arrest.
2007 (July) — Sentenced to one-year in jail for violation of probation. She served only six months.
2008 (April) — Made headlines for reports of a prior relationship with baseball legend Roger Clemens. Published reports at the time said she met the pitcher at a Fort Myers karaoke bar when she was 15 and he was 28 and married. Clemens denied the relationship.
2008 (Dec.) — McCready attempted suicide at her Nashville home.
2009 — She was part of VH1’s TV show “Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew” and afterward declared herself clean from drugs. The show aired in January 2010.
2010, (May) -- She was hospitalized briefly after police responded to an overdose call at a home in North Fort Myers, owned by her mother.
2010 — She released her fifth and final album, called “I’m Still Here.” It never reached higher than No. 71 on the Country Billboard charts. Also, an adult entertainment company released a sex tape involving McCready.
2011 (Nov.) — She took Zander from his legal guardian, her mother Gayle Inge, and fled to Arkansas over what she said were child abuse fears. She was later found hiding in a home without permission.
2012 (April) — She gave birth to her second son, Zayne. The father was music producer David Wilson.