POLK COUNTY, Fla. – A former girlfriend of embattled singer R. Kelly was inside her family’s Central Florida home when someone wearing a hoodie lit her parents' car on fire and poured an accelerant, like gasoline, around the house, law enforcement records and 911 calls obtained by News 6 reveal.
An associate of the R&B musician was later arrested on charges of arson and witness tampering.
The ex-girlfriend, Azriel Clary, 22, has been outspoken on social media with claims that she was sexually and physically abused by the singer, whose real name is Robert Sylvester Kelly.
Kelly has pleaded not guilty to numerous state and federal charges, including child sexual exploitation, kidnapping and forced labor. He faces a potential life prison sentence if convicted.
In June, as Clary was preparing to testify against Kelly in federal court, Clary’s mother, Alice Clary, placed a frantic 911 call to report the family’s car was on fire.
“We heard a big boom. And when my son looked out his window, somebody was running. But they threw something on the car and put it on fire,” Alice Clary told the Polk County 911 dispatcher. “The car is getting ready to blow up.”
Alice Clary and her husband, Angelo Clary, appeared in the 2019 Lifetime documentary “Surviving R. Kelly,” pleading for their daughter to leave the singer and return home, which she eventually did.
When the arsonist began to run away after catching the sleeve of his hoodie on fire, Angelo Clary chased after him.
“My husband and son went after the boy, but he shot at them with a gun, so they ran back to the house,” Alice Clary informed the 911 dispatcher.
Angelo Clary later told detectives that he and his son did not actually see a weapon but heard multiple “pops” that sounded like gunfire but could have also been made by the burning vehicle, police records show.
As her mother was on the phone with 911 dispatchers, Azriel Clary also called 911.
“Someone just tried to throw gasoline on my parent’s car,” said Azriel Clary. “I don’t know (if the suspect is still there). I’m inside the house.”
The dispatcher asked Azriel Clary if she knew who was responsible.
“Ma’am, I don’t know who these people are,” Azriel Clary replied.
When an investigator with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office later questioned Azriel Clary about the arson, she speculated the fire may have been related to her involvement in Kelly’s criminal prosecution, although it is unclear from reports whether she mentioned the singer by name.
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“(She) would not disclose any details regarding her case, only that the act was possibly done due to her federal case,” the investigator wrote.
Other family members told investigators they constantly receive threats via social media due to Azriel Clary’s involvement in the federal case, according to sheriff’s records.
Polk County authorities collected several pieces of evidence from the crime scene, including a lighter, a gas can and an extra-large black hoodie with burn marks that had a strong odor of accelerant, according to sheriff’s reports.
Authorities also discovered discolored patches of grass along the perimeter of the house that fire investigators determined was caused by an accelerant, records show.
The state fire marshal and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security later took over the arson investigation.
About two weeks after the fire, Azriel Clary posted video of the fire and photos of the burned car on Instagram.
View this post on Instagram
I’ve realized a lot of people are influencing people for all the wrong reasons on social media. Some even portray a life they cannot sustain. Cars that are only rented for weekends, mansions that are only booked for occasions. I’ve literally never seen anyone post when they’ve been at there lowest. So, this is me at my lowest... Someone not only set my car on fire at 3am but they also made a gas line around my entire house, with intentions to burn my entire home down. It was something that was premeditated, but the fact that someone would go to that extreme to harm me is sickening. I hope this inspires you to not portray a one sided story on social media. I hope this inspires you to show the bad so when you do win people can connect and celebrate that win with you even more. I’ve been dealing with this which is why my feed, and YT videos have been put on pause. Thankfully the police are doing their due diligence during a sensitive time like this. Nonetheless, everyone is going through problems behind closed doors, whether they choose to share it or not, even the people you look up to. I just want people to tap into the reality of our world, and publicizing a “perfect cookie-cutter life” is just not real. Can we start posting real life on our feeds? What’s really happening behind your closed doors, because “perfect” does not exist in our world, and that’s just the truth of the matter. #betruetoyourself #protectblackwomen
“It was something that was premeditated, but the fact that someone would go to that extreme to harm me is sickening,” Clary wrote on Instagram.
Azriel Clary did not respond to multiple emails from News 6 seeking comment for this story, and her family has moved out of the home where the fire occurred.
In August, federal authorities identified the suspected arsonist as Michael Williams, a relative of Kelly’s former publicist who lived in Valdosta, Georgia.
Williams is being held in federal custody without bond on charges of witness tampering and arson.
“Mr. Williams has pleaded not guilty, and looks forward to resolving this matter at trial,” said Williams’s attorney, Todd Spodek.
Next story: News 6 investigates the controversial crime-fighting technique law enforcement used to identify Williams as a suspect.