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Loved ones recall Deane Stryker had deep compassion, studded with a deft wit

Students from the New England College of Osteopathic Medicine lined the sidewalk outside the Winchester Unitarian Society Thursday.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Her first day shadowing a real doctor ended in tears.

After seeing patients at a wound recovery center in Medford, Deane Kenny Stryker, just a high schooler at the time, cried for awhile and then told her mother, “I never want to be in a room with someone who’s suffering and not know how to help them.”

She had known she wanted to be a doctor since she was a little girl, her mother, Michal Kenny, wrote in a statement released Thursday. “I knew then she had what it takes.”

Stryker, a 22-year-old medical student from Winchester, was laid to rest Thursday, five days after she was fatally stabbed while studying at the town library.


Her alleged attacker, Jeffrey Yao, 23, is being held without bail on a murder charge. His lawyer has said that his “history of mental illness, including multiple hospitalizations,” is “unquestionably” related to the slaying.

Liza Simmons, 24, a classmate of Stryker’s at the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Biddeford, Maine, said she and her friends were “basically paralyzed for at least an hour” after learning of Stryker’s death. “We couldn’t really move and talk or anything. Then we called our parents, and everyone came over to cry,” she said.

Stryker was a sunny personality who was “always cracking jokes.” She often persuaded classmates to join her for yoga and calisthenics to help them clear their heads after long hours of studying, Simmons recalled.

“She was just one of the most caring people that I’ve ever met,” she said, adding that Stryker thrived as a volunteer in a program helping elementary school students who have endured trauma.

College of Osteopathic Medicine classmates embraced after the funeral for Deane Stryker.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

One of Stryker’s professors, Mark Schuenke, who teaches anatomy, said Stryker was a prankster, “always with the intention of bringing joy to the class.”

He recalled that she sat next to the same student every day, and would surreptitiously tape a little sign with a letter on the student’s back. She took a picture of each one, which eventually spelled out “Happy Holidays,” and then used the photos to make a greeting card.


Another time she slowly — over the duration of an hours-long lecture — filled up a classmate’s open hood with pens, bits of paper, and whatever else she had on hand, he recalled in a phone interview Thursday morning.

She was uncomfortable working with cadavers, Schuenke said, and would try to avoid doing dissection.

“She would always try to distract with a quirky joke or a question — ‘What was the strangest food that you ever ate?’ ” he said. “I knew what she was doing, but she was such a joy to talk to I was hesitant to direct her back” to the work.

“She was the type of person who would bring joy to anyone around her,” he said. “She would have been a tremendous physician. She would have had the bedside manner that would have brought hope to her patients.”

Schuenke said the school has been stunned by Stryker’s death, and those who knew her are still trying to figure out how to deal with the tragedy.

“Grief is a roller coaster and not everyone is in the same seat,” he said. “Some are going down while others are going up. It’s uncharted territory.”

Simmons said most of her classmates had planned to attend Stryker’s funeral Thursday. They’re also putting together a book of photos from Stryker’s time on campus to present to her family, and plans are in the works to plant a memorial tree at the college.


A campus vigil also has been held.

Stryker’s mother said about her daughter, “There was so much more she wanted to do, see, experience, accomplish and be part of. Many things were important to her that she’s going to miss out on.

“She would also hope beyond hope that something would be done so that what happened to her, couldn’t happen again,” Kenny said.

She said Stryker’s approach to medicine was not to just treat symptoms, and “she would want the same approach in dealing with this,” Kenny said.

“Not to set up more security measures in libraries, but to understand what allowed this to happen and take care of that. There is so much that needs to be improved about our mental health system, its accessibility and effectiveness.”

“There were many wonderful people who touched Deane’s life in ways that were loving and helpful along the way, contributing to her becoming the wonderful person that she was,” Kenny said on Thursday. “I am so grateful for that and for the incredible [outpouring] of love and support that our family has received from our friends and family, the Winchester community as well as our local and state police. It is with great sadness that we say goodbye to her today.”


Medical students from University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine wiped away tears as they lined the sidewalk outside of the Winchester Unitarian Society.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Mark Arsenault can be reached at mark.arsenault@
. Follow him on Twitter @bostonglobemark. Travis Andersen can be reached at tandersen@globe.
. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.