CAMILLUS, NY — Ten months ago, an 11-year-old Camillus boy told child abuse investigators that his mother abused him, according to a woman who witnessed the interview.
The woman, who runs a local daycare center, was sure the boy would be taken out of the home. He was not.
On Tuesday, the mother, Susan Orendorf, 44, was arrested and charged with not feeding the boy, handcuffing him to a bed and strangling him. School officials became suspicious when the school opened this month after noticing the boy had lost a lot of weight.
Orendorf forced the boy to sleep on the floor every night for five years and handcuffed him to a bed frame, detectives said in a criminal complaint filed in Camillus Town Court.
Karen Sweeney, the director of Partners in Parenting Child Care Center in Camillus, said in an interview with Syracuse.com on Friday The Post Standard that she was certain the boy was abused when she called authorities in November 2021.
“I don’t understand,” Sweeney said. “I reviewed the interview and he tells this woman at length how he was abused, gives her very specific details.”
Sweeney and a worker at another daycare told Syracuse.com that they reported their suspicions to officials that the boy was molested. The other worker said she did her report in 2017.
Officials from the Onondaga County Department of Children and Family Services declined to be interviewed through a county spokesman. Justin Sayles, the spokesman, said the county would not comment on the open investigation and could not comment on the case due to privacy laws.
Karen Sweeney, the director of Partners in Parenting Child Care Center in Camillus, said she called CPS on Nov. 11 to report that she thought the boy was being abused by his mother.
“I thought he would be placed elsewhere and not go home [Orendorf]and the last thing I knew was he went home and I couldn’t see him again,” she said.
The boy attended Partners in Parenting from March to November before his mother took him out, according to Sweeney. He is a distance learner and would attend daycare on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she said.
Sweeney said the boy opened up to her and detailed what was going on at home.
Sweeney called CPS and a worker was dispatched to the daycare the same day she made the report. She made an appointment with CPS and said she sat with the boy while he was being interviewed so he wouldn’t be scared.
The boy said he spoke to county investigators alongside Sweeney several times prior to the interview, but was not honest with the workers because his mother was present when he was interviewed, according to Sweeney.
Sweeney asked the CPS worker to conduct the interview with the mother after he was at school and made sure the interview with the boy was conducted at the daycare and not at the home the boy shared with Orendorf and her family shared with other children.
Sweeney said she followed the report for five days after the interview but felt she was “fired”.
“I tried going there and I left messages every day for five days asking to speak to someone about the case I was involved in and no one got back to me,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney said she eventually got a call back but had no reply as to where the boy was being housed.
Shortly after the interview, Orendorf took her son out of daycare.
“She pulled him out right after that [the interview]’ said Sweeney. “Right in front of me [Orendorf] put him in the car, looked at me and grinned.”
Sweeney said she followed the boy through the end of the school year but lost track of him when summer came and the kids were on summer vacation.
Before she was taken out of daycare, Sweeney said she often questioned Orendorf about his appearance and behavior.
“He was underweight, he had dark circles under his eyes; he just didn’t look healthy,” Sweeney said. “We took that to his mother and we asked questions and asked for doctor’s letters and she was never able to produce those.”
Sweeney said they tried to keep Orendorf “happy” so they wouldn’t pull the boy from their care. When asked too many questions, Orendorf said, according to Sweeney, “Maybe that’s not day care for me.
Ashley Mincolla, a former day care worker at Learn as You Grow in Camillus, said in an interview with Syracuse.com that she first began working with the boy when he was about 6 years old.
Mincolla said she began suspecting abuse when she noticed a sudden change in his behavior.
“He’s gone from being a happy little kid to being a perpetually mean creature,” she said.
He would come to daycare starving, Mincolla said. She said she sometimes smuggled him fast food.
Then the signs became more visible, Mincolla said. She saw bruises on his inner thighs, she said. The boy told her his mother was responsible, Mincolla said.
On another day, the boy walked into the daycare with scratches on his face, Mincolla said. She said the boy told her Orendorf hit him in the face with something and the lie to tell others was that he ran into a bush.
Mincolla said she and a colleague anonymously reported Orendorf to a Child Protective Services hotline.
Orendorf has three biological children and two adopted children, one of whom is the boy she abused, according to the daycare director.
This month, school staff and a West Genesee School District school redress officer noticed and reported changes in the 11-year-old boy.
On the first day of school, the officer noticed the boy had lost a significant amount of weight over the summer, Camillus Police Chief Michael Schreyer said. It was a red flag that prompted officers to re-investigate incidents from the previous year, such as how the boy got into trouble several times for stealing food from other students, Schreyer said.
The boy opened up to school officials and advisers, lawmakers said. That led to Orendorf’s arrest this week.
Orendorf was charged Tuesday with second-degree unlawful detention, second-degree strangulation and two counts of child endangerment. She was charged and released after posting $40,000 bail the same day of the arrest.
An Onondaga County prosecutor said Orendorf could potentially face additional crimes.
The boy and his 6-year-old sister were removed from Orendorf’s home, lawmakers said. It is not known if the authorities have removed the other children from their home.
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Editors Darian Stevenson and Fernando Alba cover breaking news, crime and public safety. Stevenson can be reached at [email protected]. Alba can be reached at 315-690-6950 [email protected]or on Twitter at @byfernandoalba.