Seven Years Old . . . and Wanting to Die
Warning: The following story contains graphic descriptions of abuse.
There was a frigid rain pouring down on that dark January evening. The police officer, opening the door, asked the scarred and battered eight-year-old little girl wearing an old pair of shorts and a dirty tank top where her shoes were. She didn’t own any. Where was her coat? She didn’t have one. The officer gave the little girl’s mother a withering look and demanded she find something for her to wear. If he had only known the little girl’s full story, prison would have been far, far too good a place for her parents.
Looking at Samantha Orr today, one would never dream this beautiful, bright, well-spoken Evangel University senior survived a childhood so dark, so violent, so unimaginable that when the Division of Family Services finally intervened on that day in January 2002, her case was (and may still be) considered to be the worst case of child abuse in the history of Greene County — a county ranked as one of the worst counties for child abuse cases in the state of Missouri.
Samantha was the third child of seven. When she was just six months old, her older brother and sister, ages 2 and 3, were playing with Samantha in the basement of their Detroit, Michigan, home, unattended by a parent. The toddlers placed their baby sister next to a space heater to keep her warm. The heater would ignite baby Samantha’s blanket, resulting in third-degree burns on the back of her head, right shoulder, and back. Her parents refused to take her to the hospital. About a month later, someone became aware of the burns on the suffering child and called the authorities. The three children were placed in a caring foster home. During that time, Samantha had skin grafts taken and other operations performed to repair her burn-damaged skin.
Three years later, Samantha’s parents, having had two more babies, were granted custody of the three older children. Life for the young girl was about to take a vile, terrifying turn.
“The first couple of months were okay,” Samantha recalls, “but then things started to change within the family dynamics. I started getting in trouble more often, getting time outs and spankings, and then suddenly it was like a switch flipped and I was a complete outcast.”
The Abuse Begins
At first Samantha wasn’t allowed to go outside to play with her siblings or friends, then she wasn’t allowed to play inside with her siblings — only stand in the corner and watch. When the television was turned on, she was forced to stand and face the wall. She was no longer allowed to eat at the table with the family, instead left overs would be tossed to the floor, like scraps for a dog. At 4 years old, she was responsible for hand-washing the family's clothing and putting them in the dryer or hanging them up to dry. She also was responsible for making meals, doing the dishes, and cleaning the entire home.
“I remember Samantha telling me how her mother made her clean the toilet with her toothbrush and then brush her teeth with it,” says Dr. Jean Orr, Samantha’s adoptive mother. “She was also forced to eat the feces from her baby brother’s diaper as punishment and at other times, she would drink water from the tank of the toilet so she wouldn’t get in trouble for running the water.”
Samantha’s sleeping arrangements went from bedroom to floor to closet to basement floor. Her siblings were not allowed to speak to her unless it was to tell her to do something for them. She would go for days without food and if she “stole” food out of the garbage to stave her incredible hunger, her mother would pour vinegar or Tabasco sauce down her throat. Samantha also became her mother’s frustration outlet — as she beat her daily.
“Each day I would try to be better so I could have something to eat,” Samantha says. “If given the privilege to eat, it would be left overs from their plates or my mother would pour fruit loops on the floor and that would be my meal.”
A Nightmare World
As difficult as it is to imagine, her world was about to grow darker — much darker. Samantha recalls her mother leaving with the other kids one Saturday to take them to the park while she was left behind to finish cleaning the house. Shortly after her mom left, her dad called for her from his bedroom . . . for the next two hours, he would repeatedly rape her.
When he was done, he threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone.
“After that day, things got worse,” she says. “Any time my mom was gone, he would use that time to rape me. As much as I wanted for my mom to be gone [to avoid the beatings], I didn’t want to be alone with my dad because I knew what he would do to me.”
During this time, Samantha’s family had moved to Wisconsin, and from there, when she was about 6, they moved to Springfield, Missouri, where, after living in hotels for several months, they got a small house. While her siblings were sent to school, she was not permitted to go — few knew she even existed.
“My parents now fought all the time,” Samantha says. Her siblings would escape to their rooms during these arguments, but Samantha did not have a room, so she would stand shaking against the wall in fear — her mother had beaten Samantha’s heavily bruised and scarred body daily for years at this point, using everything from a switch to a hammer, so she feared for her life, especially following arguments. “All of their anger would finally be directed at me,” she says. “I was hit, thrown against the wall, thrown down the stairs . . . .”
Samantha says the older she got, the more unstable her mother became, growing more demanding and even creating lies so Samantha could be punished more. “She would throw things at me, anything she could grab — the telephone, shoes, books, a knife, a frying pan — I still have a crescent-shaped scar in my forehead where the corner of a cookie sheet hit me and knocked me unconscious for three hours. When I woke up, I had a bandage on my head and my mom told me to clean up the mess my blood had made.”
From Hope to Terror
Then came a spark of hope. Her father walked out on the family — the raping stopped! Her mom started dating a friend of her dad’s, and for a short while, things improved as her mom attempted to keep the abuse of Samantha a secret. But the new “step-dad” soon caught on and instead of putting an end to the abuse, joined in.
Her step-father took the abuse to a new level, demanding that the other children punish Samantha so she would learn right from wrong. If the other children didn’t physically punish Samantha enough in his estimation, they would be punished instead. Inspired by that fear, the beatings were brutal.
“I was locked in a tiny cupboard beneath the stove, sometimes all day, and I was not allowed out even to use the bathroom,” Samantha recalls. “Sometimes they made me crawl into a small dog carrier and would lock the door — then later accuse of me of stealing some of my brothers’ socks or underwear, and beat me for it, even though I had been locked up all day.”
It wasn’t long before Samantha’s step-father began to rape her. “He held a gun to my head and told me if I told anyone, he would kill me,” Samantha says. “Any time my mom was gone, he would rape me. He would make up excuses to get my mom out of the house so he could do what he wanted with me. I feared him even more than my real father.”
Although Samantha did everything she could to please her mother, nothing was good enough. Her siblings grew up learning to hate Samantha — the younger ones only knowing her by “Hey you,” and not her real name. Samantha hated her life, hated herself. She just wanted to die.
Samantha clearly remembers the day the doorbell rang that cold, rainy Friday in January 2002 and two women entered their home.
“I was standing in the corner of the kitchen, where my mom told me to stand so I wouldn’t be seen,” Samantha says. “Then my mom calls for me to bring out three glasses of water, so I did. Since I wasn’t allowed to sit on the couch, I kneeled in front of my mom — any time my mom was in a chair, she made me kneel in front of her so she wouldn’t have to look up if she needed to tell me to do something.”
The two ladies were social workers. From the moment Samantha entered the room, her bruised and scarred body along with her hair, which had been shaved off several months before and was now an unkempt mass, were immediate red flags. After some small talk, the ladies took Samantha to a back room. Not knowing that these people could be trusted, she began to cry and refused to tell them the truth about her bruises and scars, knowing that if her parents found out she has said anything, she may not survive the next beating.
The police arrived soon after, observed Samantha’s battered body, questioned her briefly, and then took all of the children — now numbering seven — out of the home and placed them in foster care.
In an unexpected twist, Samantha says she cried when her siblings were taken to other homes, because now she couldn’t protect them. Up to this point, to spare her brothers and sisters from beatings — which they had periodically received — she would take responsibility for things they may have broken or done, and took the beatings for them, despite their hatred for her.
A New Life
The morning after she and her older sister arrived at their foster home, Samantha was shocked by one of the first questions she was asked: “What would you like to eat for breakfast?” Breakfast? She was allowed to eat breakfast?
The foster home provided Samantha kindness and love like she had not experienced since before her parents picked her up when she was three years old. “I also learned to start telling my sister ‘no’ at this time,” Samantha says. “I believed there were two outcomes possible — if I went home to my parents, they would kill me; if we never went back, I would be safe if I said ‘no.’ Of course, my sister didn’t like that and started a fight, but the other foster kids stuck up for me . . . it was nice having someone siding for me.”
Samantha would enter school in February. Although she was old enough to be in second grade, she had never been to school. She didn’t know the alphabet or what sounds letters made, much less how to read. She also had a speech impediment, struggling to pronounce her Rs. She was placed in kindergarten, but was also assigned a speech therapist and a tutor to help her in math, and would later attend summer school to help her advance in spelling and reading.
A Camp Just for Her
Three or four years before Samantha arrived in foster care, Evangel Temple (AG) pastored by Charlie Arsenault in Springfield, had sent members to be trained to begin offering their own Royal Family Kids’ Camp. A camp specifically for foster children who have come out of extreme abuse.
Working with Greene County officials, foster children in the area would be identified to be eligible to attend the camp, which focuses on helping children experience fun, happiness, joy, and the love of God in a safe environment.
Unknown to Samantha, God was already preparing her future.
“Every camp is required to have a social worker or psychologist on staff to deal with behavioral issues,” says Jean Orr, a psychologist and associate professor of Psychology at Evangel University. “At that time , I helped with coordinating the child placement — selecting kids for camp . . . , when I heard about Samantha, something tugged at my heart. God gave me a love for her before I even met her.”
However, for Samantha heading for Royal Family Kids’ Camp on a bus that summer Monday morning was a time of growing terror. Where were they really taking her? Was this a lie and her foster parents were just sending her away because they didn’t like her? What would they do to her at this camp? By the time the bus pulled in to the camp, she was in near panic mode.
“When we got to camp, there were a bunch of adults outside screaming and cheering for us, with signs with our names on them,” Samantha recalls. “I got off the bus and I was introduced to my counselor, Nadia. She took me around, introducing me to people, but I was always paying attention to where the door was, so I could run if I needed to.”
But by that night, Samantha’s fears had calmed. Maybe this was a good place?
“The first time I saw Samantha at camp, you could tell she was nervous and she didn’t smile at all,” Jean says. “But by midweek, she was smiling, laughing, and getting involved in everything she possible could because everything was all new to her.”
One of the most memorable events for Samantha was the big birthday party on Tuesday night where every child’s birthday was celebrated and they were given gifts. Samantha had never had a birthday party. In fact, she never received a birthday present before.
“I remember opening up my present and it was this bright yellow teddy bear with a yellow shirt and a pink flower — I really liked it,” Samantha says. “I started walking across the room with it when one of the counselors asked where I was going. I told them I was giving my gift to my sister [who was invited to the camp as well], because that’s what I was supposed to do. At Christmas, I had to give any gifts I received to other people.”
When Samantha was assured that the gift was hers to keep, suddenly things clicked for her. If these people had taken the time to get a gift just for her, they must really care. She felt safe. She felt loved. She opened up to them.
“It was the best week of my childhood,” Samantha says. “While at camp, I could be a normal kid. That Friday, when I got on the bus, I knew if I never got the chance to go back to camp, I would still be okay, because I now knew what it was like to be a normal kid.”
A New Family
Samantha was also oblivious of the fact that during the camp, Jean’s love for her was cemented. Jean — who grew up with foster kids in her home — and her husband Daryle began taking the courses that would allow them to be foster parents, knowing that the purpose behind it would be to then adopt Samantha.
Through the process, Jean and Daryle learned that due to the abuse Samantha had endured, they should never expect her to be more than a C student and would not be able to handle the more challenging courses as she grew older. The Orrs understood, but proceeded to go through the foster care qualification process.
“We were able to have visits with Samantha through the fall more quickly than normal because we had established a relationship at camp,” Jean says. “In January 2003, she started living with us. Finally, after nearly two years, on October 27, 2004, we were able to adopt her. In fact, all seven of the children were adopted by other families all on the same day.”
Although Jean admits that they did experience the expected growing pains by adding a fourth child, with a baby unexpectedly also on the way, Samantha says she felt loved and like one of the family almost immediately. However, as the family had been forewarned, Samantha struggled academically. But to challenge herself to do better, in sixth grade she made the childish “fantasy” goal of graduating at the top of her high school class.
Becoming Part of God’s Family
When Samantha was living with her parents, she didn’t know God even existed, but through Royal Family Kids’ Camp and the Orrs, she came to know about His love for her. Then, one day when she was 9 years old, Samantha told Jean that she learned in Sunday School that if she wanted to be forgiven, she had to forgive others, so she wanted to go pray for her mom and dad and to forgive them.
“When I forgave my parents and asked Jesus into my heart, a weight was lifted off my heart,” Samantha recalls. “I knew that God would take care of them and me. I felt free. I felt safe. I didn’t have to be afraid and I knew that my life was going to get better.”
Some may ask, “Where was God in all of this? Why did He allow Samantha to suffer like this for so long?” Samantha says God didn’t create sin, but He can take what was intended for evil and destruction and redeem it and use it for His glory. She adds that she still remains thankful to God for someone contacting DFS and saving her from the abuse that she believes would have only ended in her death.
Jean, as a psychologist, notes that Samantha didn’t experience many of the issues that most foster children who have been physically and sexually abused do. “I believe God made the difference in her life,” Jean says. “She still has struggles, but God has helped her to become the most resilient person I know.”
Samantha has shared her testimony over and over again, and for the past eight years she has gone back to Royal Family Kids’ Camp to help foster kids, just like her, come to know they are beautiful, safe, and loved by the staff, and more importantly, by God.
Wayne Tesch, co-founder of Royal Family Kids’ Camp, says the transformation in Samantha’s life that began in Royal Family Kids’ Camp happens to many of the children that come through the camp. “Samantha is the first fruit of years of planting seeds of hope in children’s lives,” he says. “And to be able to see her grow, develop, and be what she is today, it’s clear to me that she is not defined by her past, but instead is able to see what God has for her future — and now she’s sharing that hope and that love, found in God, with children who are longing for it.”
“I have had the rare opportunity to share my story with the kids [at Royal Family Kids’ Camps] to let them know that I have had their fears,” Samantha explains. “I love seeing the kids warm up and open up to the adults and making friends. It’s a week of hard work, pouring yourself into kids’ lives, but that’s what camp is all about — providing these kids a week of fun, loving, and happy memories, just like the ones I have.”
Oh, by the way, Samantha did end up graduating as valedictorian and student body president of her high school. But that doesn’t mean she’s now some kind of genius, 4.0 college student . . . , no, she has earned a couple of Bs — in engineering physics and advanced calculus — and will likely graduate summa cum laude (3.9 or higher).
Who says God isn’t a God of miracles!