Teresa Rigby made it through two sentences before emotion overwhelmed her.
"I just want to thank all the children and everyone else for all the prayers," she told the children who had gathered to pay tribute. "I appreciate everything."
It's been less than six weeks since the 27-year-old Baltimore police officer was forced off the elevated Jones Falls Expressway in an accident and fell 30 feet to the pavement below. She had been in Maryland Shock Trauma Center, listed in critical condition, and she's now out and getting around with a walker.
On Friday, she came to Mount Zion Baptist Church in East Baltimore to meet a roomful of children in a summer camp who had made her a banner.
Her entrance was met with cheers from parents, staff and campers, who moments before had been zipping around in matching orange T-shirts, comparing yo-yos and other end-of-summer-camp prizes. They couldn't wait to hug the woman who had provided a pizza party on their last day of camp, a thank-you gift for the 8-foot long "get well" banner they sent her while she recovered.
"I'm going to put it up in my office and think about them every time I look at it," said Rigby, who managed to compose herself for a few more words. "It's not easy, but it's not too bad. I'm staying tough and working hard."
Rigby had been standing near a disabled vehicle on northbound Interstate 83, just south of Cold Spring Lane, on June 21 when a car hit the back of her parked cruiser. The police car surged forward, hit Rigby and forced her over the side.
She landed in the parking lot of the Pepsi plant. Police are still investigating the accident, and no charges have been filed.
Rigby has since undergone multiple surgeries, including facial reconstruction and a procedure that placed a metal rod in her leg. But her smile when she saw the children Friday reminded everyone that she was getting better.
The students decorated the banner with signatures and well wishes.
"I know she got a lot of great things from lots of people, but it was nice to give her our banner too," said Zakiya Eames, a third-grader who helped make the banner. "I'm excited about the pizza, but I'm mostly excited about seeing Officer Rigby."
Marc Partee's 7-year-old twin boys also helped. Micah and Malachi explained that they added stars and signed their names for the officer's tribute.
But the gesture meant more for Partee. "It has a special meaning to me because I'm a Baltimore City police officer myself," he said. "For them to recognize her service was huge. It wasn't prompted. No one asked them to do it."
Partee, the deputy major of the Central District, said traffic stops are the "most dangerous thing" a police officer can do. "It's always a chance when you step out of your car on a busy highway," he said.
Antoynica Ryan, the director of the camp, said the students never expected anything in return. "We always try to encourage the kids to use their talents in everything they do, and they kind of took it and ran with it," she said.