CAMILLUS, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — NewsChannel 9 has obtained a photo taken by a woman who claims it captures a moment she witnessed a Camillus woman physically and verbally abusing her son at Gillie Lake Park in Camillus over the summer.
The photo itself may not trigger suspicions, but the witness’ story behind it does.
Billie Jo Smith tells NewsChannel 9: “I looked in his eyes and I could see fear. It horrified me.”
It wasn’t until 44-year-old Susan Orendorf was arrested last week on criminal charges related to child abuse that Smith realized it was the same woman she encountered over the summer.
Smith says she first noticed how Orendorf forced her son to stay on the beach, while another girl was in the water.
“She goes: ‘You put your hands right next to your side…’ like a military stance. ‘You don’t move.'”
Eventually, she saw the boy run away and the mom chase after. Smith followed to watch what unfolded.
She remembers the mom getting ahold of the boy, swearing and scolding him.
“‘You’re nothing,'” she recalls hearing. “‘You’re going to be nothing… You’re going to listen to me or else.”‘
Smith didn’t know what happened next, because the boy and woman were behind a van.
“All of a sudden, we heard a big slam,” she remembers. “He started crying. All I can think is she slammed his head up against the back of the van.”
Smith took a picture of the van. The vehicle and license plate number match the one in Orendorf’s driveway this week.
Smith says she didn’t know who to call and didn’t call child protective services like other witnesses to abuse have said they did. She tried to help by herself.
“I screamed loudly, ‘Lady! What are you doing to this little boy… What are you doing to him?'” Smith says she asked Orendorf.
Orendorf apparently responded: “That’s what my psychiatrist told me I should do. It’s none of your business.”
Smith asked the boy next: “I said: ‘Are you okay?’ He kept looking up at her, like… is she going to hit me? She goes: ‘It’s none of your business.’ I said ‘Yea, well tell that to my cell phone, cause I just took pictures of you.'”
NewsChannel 9 showed the photos to Karen Sweeney, the boy’s former childcare provider who triggered an investigation by Child Protective Services.
Sweeney confirms the picture shows Orendorf and the boy.
“That’s his swimsuit,” said Sweeney. “It’s the only one she’s ever given him. You can tell by her demeanor she’s mad and she’s got her hand up here, you can’t see, he would always say she’d grab him by the back of the neck and push him.”
Smith’s photo is the first physical proof seen by the public. It’s another account of Orendorf’s apparent behavior being seen in public. Workers at Tully’s and Limp Lizard have said they called CPS.
Orendorf’s charges result from accusations of worse behavior: choking the boy, handcuffing him to his bedframe, withholding food, and grabbing him by the genitals as punishment.
An Onondaga County Grand Jury is considering if there’s enough evidence to indict Orendorf.
The Onondaga County District Attorney asks anyone who may have witnessed Orendorf’s abuse to call his office at (315) 435-3092 and ask for Maureen Barry.