11/20/2014 06:15 EST | Updated 01/20/2015 05:59 EST

Rinelle Harper thanks construction workers who found her

An emotional meeting occurred today between 16-year-old Rinelle Harper and the two construction workers who found her after she had crawled out of Winnipeg's Assiniboine River following a sexual assault, only to be assaulted again by the same attackers.​

The meeting came after Harper's family reached out to the men, but it took place in front of the city's media outlets on the condition Harper's face not be shown. She also did not want to comment to the media. 

Ed Mehanovic, one of the workers, told CBC News before the meeting that he had been on his way to work on Saturday, Nov. 7, when he and colleague Sean Vincent found the girl by the river.

Mehanovic's voice quavered as he described what it was like to see her crumpled on the river walkway. 

"Kind of horrible picture to see a female laying down like that, early in the morning and in the condition, the way she was," he said. "And for a second, I thought she was dead."

He said at first when they approached her, she didn't respond. 

"We tried to wake her up," he said. "We thought she's sleeping till we saw all the blood, like from the side, and on the leg."

They called 911 and waited with Harper for paramedics to arrive.

Mehanovic said while they were waiting for help, they tried to cover her.

"We took the jackets, covered [her] up and for a few seconds I was touching her hand like to see [if] she's still alive and she opened her eyes," he said. "And I think, like, she tried to push me away. She's thinking that somebody [was] attacking her or something and she just lost [consciousness] again." 

Mehanovic was delayed getting to the meeting with Harper, but Vincent arrived before Harper did. 

Vincent, 41, said the encounter has had a profound effect on him. His daughter is nearly Harper's age. 

He's thrilled Harper survived the attack and is recovering.

Vincent said he thinks about Harper all the time and has been watching the media track her recovery. 

"It was nice to see her," he said. "I listened to her every day, how she's getting better and stronger and that she'd made it. That was nice to hear through the media and everything."

He said he wanted Harper to know she was a hero. 

Aboriginal leaders, including Grand Chief David Harper, who represents Manitoba's northern chiefs and is a distant relative of Rinelle Harper, said it's hoped to send the construction workers to a Winnipeg Jets game as a thank you.