‘American Idol’ finalist Syesha Mercado raises nearly $400,000 to fight custody battle

Jay Handelman
Sarasota Herald-Tribune

Attention is growing for “American Idol” finalist Syesha Mercado’s efforts to win back custody of her two young children, including a nearly two-week-old girl, removed by Manatee County authorities.

A video from the children’s father, Tyron Deener, last Wednesday showed the couple surrounded by Manatee County sheriff’s deputies who were attempting to execute a court order to bring the newborn girl to the hospital. Like the girl’s older brother, Amen’Ra, she has not been returned to the parents.

Custody Battle:Manatee County authorities take newborn of ‘American Idol’ finalist Syesha Mercado

Earlier:'American Idol' star Syesha Mercado fights for son's custody over claims of malnutrition

Syesha Mercado, the one-time “American Idol” finalist, holds her son Amen'Ra.

In May, their son was placed into foster care after what Mercado and Deener thought would be a routine trip to the hospital when her breast milk supply began to dry up, and they became concerned that he would not accept other fluids.

Mercado and Deener started a GoFundMe campaign in April to help cover legal bills and other expenses in the fight to recover their now 15-month-old son. Since Deener’s video of authorities taking their baby girl went viral, the fundraising effort has nearly tripled.

As of mid-day Monday, the fund had collected more than $390,000, nearly double its $200,000 goal. Before the video, the total was closer to $100,000.

More than 10,700 people have donated, most in the $10 to $25 range. At least two contributions topped $4,000 each.

Mercado graduated from Sarasota’s Booker High School and went on to appear on season seven of “American Idol,” where she came in third place. She went on to star in a national tour of “Dreamgirls” and the touring and Broadway productions of “The Book of Mormon.” More recently she has been selling beads and wellness products.

Spotlight on Syesha:The career of singer Syesha Mercado

Previously:Critics say powerful pediatrician too quick to diagnose child abuse, traumatizing families

Read the full foster care investigation:Florida took thousands of kids from families, then failed to keep them safe.

Kim Kardashian West's mention of case attracted comments

Awareness of the case also grew on Saturday when Kim Kardashian West mentioned it on her own Facebook, Twitter and other social media pages, attracting thousands of comments. She provided a link to a page about Amen’Ra, including a video that shows Mercado singing to the boy.

“Everyone please read and spread this story is absolutely heartbreaking,” Kardashian wrote. “How a mother could go and seek help for her baby that is not wanting to eat, they take the baby into foster care and remove her newborn baby with no reports of abuse. Amenrasba.life.”

Support is coming to the couple from a variety of corners. A Facebook group called “Justice for Syesha – Bring Her Babies Home” has more than 800 members, and its organizers are issuing daily calls to action.

On Monday, followers were encouraged to contact Manatee County commissioners, after earlier calls for messages to leaders involved in child protective services and child health care.

Some posts have called for removing physician Sally Smith, the head of the children protection team in Pinellas County. She oversees nearly every case involving suspicious injuries at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Mercado and Deener brought their son to the hospital for treatment and two weeks later were ordered to leave the hospital campus for trespassing.

Smith has faced extensive criticism from defense attorneys, parents and child welfare employees for her approach.

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