Thalia Williams was perfectly poised as she spoke Friday to a rapt crowd dominated by law enforcement officers and attorneys.
The 11-year-old Minneapolis girl drew smiles and laughter from her audience and tears of emotion from her proud father, Justin Williams, as she described the harrowing events that led to her receiving an Outstanding Citizen award. Thalia was the youngest of six people honored at a Community Leadership Awards ceremony in Minneapolis, held yearly by the Hennepin County attorney's office.
On Sept. 18, 2014, Thalia and her father shared a terrifying experience.
Vincent Walker, a 46-year-old former business associate of Justin Williams, arrived at their Minneapolis home around dinnertime and attacked Thalia's father. Walker stabbed him in the head, slashed his neck, and severed one of his fingers as Thalia hugged her schnauzer, Charlie, in an adjoining room.
When the attack ended, Thalia cared for her father until paramedics and her mother, Julia, arrived.
And when Walker went to trial on attempted murder charges, she testified against him, as did her father. Walker is now serving a 20-year prison sentence.
"It was scary," Thalia said. "I knew him. He had two daughters and a wife."
Less than a week after Walker's sentencing, Thalia again demonstrated bravery beyond her years when she found a soda bottle bomb on a sidewalk and told her mother, who alerted police. The Minneapolis bomb squad arrived and detonated the bomb.
On Friday, Thalia held her Hamster Princess book in her lap and listened to (slightly older) community leaders receive awards of their own.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., presented the office's Lifetime Achievement Award to former Hennepin County Attorney Tom Johnson. Johnson was ahead of his time on many issues, Klobuchar said.
"Tom truly loves the people he works with," she said. "He is a model for all of us."
•Judy Johnston, a senior attorney in the county attorney's office who prosecuted some of the office's toughest cases, ran its Child Protection Division, and most recently started its training department.
• Ellen Krug, a writer, lawyer and executive director of Call for Justice LLC, an organization that helps connect the poor with legal resources. She spoke about her experiences as a transgender person.
• Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, who accepted an award for her department's work in arresting and charging Pierre Collins in the death of his 10-year-old son, Barway.
• Suzanne Tema, a social worker at Roosevelt High School who for 19 years has worked with children and their parents to improve home environments.
'The one that gives back'
Thalia did not appear the least bit shy or nervous as she accepted her award. With her head barely showing over the lectern, she addressed the crowd with her hands folded and without a paper in front of her.
Klobuchar told Thalia that she should join her in Congress. But the sixth-grader said she has other plans — she wants to become a courtroom attorney like Perry Mason.
Williams' parents said they've always known that their daughter was special. "Her name means 'the one that gives back,' " her father said.
The audience laughed when Thalia described how, after her father's attack, she went to play her first volleyball game and lost.
"But it was fun just kind of having normal after that happened," she said.
Justin Williams, 55, said the family is pretty close to getting back to normal.
"Don't you agree?" he asked Thalia after the ceremony.
"Yeah," she said, smiling up at him.