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"She met me in the hotel bathroom, and we ran out and never looked back," Michelle Kramer says of helping her daughter escape the rapper

By Stephanie Petit and Janine Rubenstein
January 06, 2019 05:29 PM
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A mother’s love was the “sign” that finally persuaded a young woman to leave R. Kelly after nine years.

Dominique Gardner met the rapper, born Robert Sylvester Kelly, in Chicago in 2009 when she was 18 years old. Her mother, Michelle Kramer, 48, tells PEOPLE that as the two’s nine-year relationship progressed, communication between the mother and daughter became less and less frequent.

“She started out as his assistant, and she’d come home on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day,” says Kramer, whose daughter declined to comment but gave her mother permission to speak for her. “A few years ago I got a text from her saying she wasn’t going to be on my phone line anymore. After that I couldn’t reach her. But in my mind she’s grown, she’ll call when she can.”

However, Kramer said she began to realize something was wrong in August 2017 when she received a call from a family looking for their daughter.

“I started to think about when she’d come home with a bruise on her neck or her arm telling me she had fallen or something. I had his number and sent him a text, and she called to say, ‘Stop believing everything you hear,’ ” the mother recalls. “I begged her to please come home. She broke down and cried and then hung up. She called me back and told me never to give up on her.”

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Credit: Lifetime; Noam Galai/Getty Images
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R. Kelly
| Credit: Earl Gibson III/Getty

Kramer learned her daughter was in Los Angeles and was planning a trip there when she was reached by Lifetime about the shooting of their new documentary Surviving R. Kelly, which tells the stories of women who escaped Kelly’s world — or tried to help loved ones they say were trapped. The women share shocking accounts, alleging physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the musician once crowned the King of R&B in both the documentary and this week’s issue of PEOPLE.

Cameras were with Kramer on Mother’s Day weekend as she headed to the hotel where Gardner was staying.

“I went to her room door and told her I just wanted to have lunch,” says Kramer. “She called him to ask, and he said no. Later she told me every time she wanted to leave he would break down crying, promising he wouldn’t hit her anymore.”

The mother continued, “She’d been praying for a sign, and her mom showing up was it. She met me in the hotel bathroom, and we ran out and never looked back. I got my daughter back.”

Kramer says Kelly, 51, took advantage of her daughter’s admiration for him.

“She was a little girl who idolized him, and he turned on her,” she says. “Even now a lot of people still don’t think it’s happening.”

RELATED VIDEO: John Legend Speaks Out Against R. Kelly in New Documentary About Alleged Abuse

Representatives for R. Kelly responded “no comment” to PEOPLE’s request for a response to allegations in our story and in Surviving R. Kelly.

The musician does not currently face any criminal charges, but he has reportedly settled several civil lawsuits with women. Dream Hampton, who executive produced the documentary which aired Jan. 3–5 on Lifetime, wants Kelly to be held accountable.

“This is a deeply painful story about a predator,” she says. “We have brave women who came forward. The public deserved to have the full story.”

If you or someone you know think they are being abused, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now for anonymous, confidential help, available 24/7.