WINCHESTER — United in grief, hundreds gathered Sunday at the Winchester Unitarian Society to mourn a young woman fatally stabbed Saturday morning as she sat reading in the town’s public library.
A spokeswoman for Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan identified the victim Sunday evening as 22-year-old Deane Kenny Stryker, who was a Winchester High School graduate studying at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Friends at the church recalled Stryker as a young woman committed to someday helping others as a physician and who as a teen had worked caring for children, both for the society and at nearby Temple Shir Tikvah.
“This is a time to reach out to each other in support and to be together as a community,” the Rev. Heather Janules told those gathered in the church.
Janules called on the “spirit of love” to be with the Winchester community.
“Bless us amid this place of broken hearts,” she said.
James Herbert, president of the University of New England, said in a statement that the campus community “was shocked and saddened” by Stryker’s death.
“A first year student in the UNE College of Osteopathic Medicine, Deane was just beginning her journey toward becoming a physician, and showed great promise as a student doctor who was passionate about medicine and helping others,” Herbert said.
“She was an advocate for domestic violence and mental health awareness, and an active member of the . . . college community,” he continued. “She served as an orientation leader, and was part of a student organization that provides confidential peer support to other students who need a place to turn when they are struggling.”
On Saturday, Ryan said Winchester resident Jeffrey Yao — who had attended high school with Stryker — attacked her with a 10-inch hunting knife while she studied at the town’s public library.
At least two other patrons, including a 77-year-old man, came to Stryker’s aid and restrained Yao until police arrived. Stryker was taken to an area hospital, where she subsequently died.
The 77-year-old was injured and also hospitalized, Ryan said, but was expected to survive.
Yao was charged with one count of murder and one count of armed assault with intent to murder, Ryan said. He is being held without bail pending his arraignment, which is scheduled for Monday in Woburn District Court. Authorities did not release any information on whether Yao knew Stryker or might have targeted her.
No one answered the doors at Stryker’s or Yao’s parents’ homes on Sunday.
Multiple Winchester residents said Yao was troubled and often acted out violently.
Paul Masi, a longtime assistant coach for Winchester High School’s cross-country and track teams, remembered Yao as a quiet student, but said he had little interaction with him.
“As with any tragedy like that, you always think, was there something you could have done,” Masi said.
Gerry Skinder, a retired Winchester High English teacher, said he had remained friends with Stryker after she took his course.
Stryker showed “the wisdom, depth of character that allows people to see others as whole human beings, beyond what their role might be,” said Skinder.
He remembered being deeply moved that Stryker reached out to him with a personal note after he had gone through a difficult time.
“I don’t know what got a hold of you toward the end of the year, but I hope it’s gone and never comes back,” she wrote, according to Skinder.
Outside the library Sunday, people walked through the cold rain to add flowers and other items to a spontaneous memorial.
Gail LaRocca, 65, stopped by late Sunday morning to leave a bouquet. She had not known Stryker, she said, but was alarmed by her death.
“You look at [incidents] in Parkland, Fla., or Sandy Hook, or anywhere else that there’s been violence, and you think, ‘Oh, it won’t happen in my town.’ And that’s not true,” LaRocca said. “This is just a microcosm of what happens across this country.”
A young woman visited the memorial a few minutes later, added a bouquet, and stood staring for a long moment with a distraught expression. As she walked away, she declined to speak to a reporter.
Stryker was also mourned at St. Mary’s Parish in Winchester, where the Rev. Michael J. Bova Conti mentioned the “horrific” act at the library and spoke of the victim and the man who had come to her assistance.
At the Unitarian church, mourners offered one another whatever comfort they could muster: a friend’s lingering embrace; quiet, consoling words; a parent’s arm draped across the shoulders of a child mourning a life taken too soon.
Participants included members of Stryker’s synagogue, who joined with other community members in lighting candles and hanging folded paper cranes from small tree branches.
In an interview, temple Cantor Beth Levin told reporters she was “heartbroken and soulsick” and had known Stryker for about a decade.
“Deane was full of love and gentleness, and she was part of our community as a baby sitter and as a spirit that just made everyone feel good wherever she went,” Levin said. “She just represented all that is good in each of us. Kids felt it; adults felt it. She was trusted; she was responsible.”
Several mourners shared memories of Stryker. One woman said her daughter had been a close friend to Stryker, who was a loving, compassionate person and wanted to help others.
“Ever since she was a little girl, she was someone who had enormous empathy for all people,” the woman said. Stryker was “committed to keeping her heart open . . . it gave me hope for [medicine] that she was going into the profession.”
Another woman said she had known Stryker’s parents since before she was born.
“Her mom and I went out on a picnic when she was a baby,” the speaker recalled, “and she held her up and said, ‘She’s an angel.’ ”