BIDDEFORD — Deane Stryker would have been the ideal person to talk through whatever mental health issues Jeffrey Yao may have been dealing with before he attacked her with a knife Saturday inside a Massachusetts library.

Deane “Kenny” Stryker, left, a first-year student at UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, “showed great promise” and “was passionate about … helping others,” the university president said. Photo courtesy of UNE

The University of New England medical student also would have been the person everyone at the school would have leaned on in the aftermath of such a tragedy.

But she didn’t get the chance to do either.

Classmates of Stryker, 22, struggled Monday to make sense of her brutal murder, but without exception, those who spoke of her impact on the tight-knit first-year class of med students in Biddeford did so with superlatives.

“She was one of the most genuine, open, happy people I’ve ever met,” said Ben Thomas of Syracuse, New York. “She was like a bright shiny ball of energy that lit up those around her.”

“She was the person everyone looked forward to seeing if they had a bad day,” said Mark Jens, a classmate who also shared an apartment with Stryker.

Students and staff at UNE’s College of Osteopathic Medicine were still stunned Monday by the grisly details of Stryker’s death. And although they were sad knowing that she’d never get to achieve her dream of becoming a pediatrician, they wanted people to know of her outsized personality and the impact she had.

“Whenever anyone passes, there is this tendency to say how vibrant they are, or about how they light up a room, and yet I can’t think of a better way to describe her. It’s not platitudes,” said Mark Schuenke, one of her instructors.

First-year UNE medical student Brianna O’Donnell holds a cellphone photo of her late friend Deane Stryker. The slaying victim’s classmates said she had a big impact on them. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

POSITIVE DESPITE TRAGIC BACKGROUND

Schuenke said Stryker’s unfailing optimism was all the more impressive given the tragedy in her life. Seven years ago, her father, an endocrinologist, died of cancer in prison while serving a four-year sentence for perjury. That charge was connected to the death of Timothy Stryker’s girlfriend, Dr. Linda Goudey, 42, who was found strangled in her car in 1993. Stryker’s father was identified as a suspect, according to a Boston Globe report in 2011, but he consistently denied any involvement in Goudey’s death.

“I think when people have that kind of a background, they go one of two directions,” Schuenke said of Deane Stryker. “Being someone who is depressed and always carrying that burden, or you can choose to make it into a positive and to turn away from all that negativity.

“It’s a testament to her that she took the second path.”

The Portland Press Herald has been unable to contact Stryker’s family members.

Schuenke said Stryker was the class prankster: focused and driven in her coursework but never willing to surrender her joy.

“She might not have destroyed the boards or gotten the top residency spots, but once she got into her third and fourth year, she would have distanced herself from all of her classmates because of that bedside manner, because of the ability to just melt people,” he said. “She could break down barriers just with her personality.”

Emily Schaffer, right, and Haley Etskovitz, first-year medical students just like Deane Stryker, prepare to share their memories of her at a UNE office Monday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Liza Simmons of Brunswick said Stryker was one of the first people she met on campus and that she instantly made an impression among the 170 first-year med students.

“A lot of people are loving and caring, but she was that times 12,” Simmons said. “Even to people she wasn’t close with.”

Emily Schaffer remembers being in class with Stryker one day when the topic was getting heavy and Schaffer had to excuse herself so she wouldn’t break down crying. Stryker was the first person to come out and see if she was OK.

“That’s the type of person she was,” Schaffer said.

But she was goofy, too. She would share puns to help classmates memorize things for class. She was constantly in motion.

“She was just really unapologetically herself,” Simmons said. “Some people thought she was weird, but she would never change a thing about herself, and you have to be so brave to be like that.”

Jane Carreiro, dean of the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, speaks to reporters during a press conference Monday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

MEMORIES, ANGER, SENSE OF LOSS

Dr. Jane Carreiro, vice president of health affairs at UNE and dean of the College of Osteopathic Medicine, was in charge of notifying students about Stryker’s death. She didn’t know the young woman well, but quickly learned how beloved she was.

“I think people are all over the place with emotions,” Carreiro said. “People are angry about what happened. People are devastated and sad. Some people feel just hopeless that someone could just go home to see her family and happen to be in the local library studying and something like this could happen. The sense of loss is palpable.”

The College of Osteopathic Medicine is a highly competitive four-year program, with the majority of the graduates moving on to become primary care physicians. Most of the first- and second-year students rent homes in the Biddeford area.

Some UNE students held an impromptu vigil on campus late Sunday, not long after the news had begun to spread. Carreiro also gathered students Monday morning to share memories of Stryker.

“One memory of her that I really love, she would get really excited about new health ventures and she had gotten this book about the benefits of not wearing your shoes or socks outside,” Simmons said. “So for several months you’d see her with bare feet, all over school, even in the bathroom. I remember being very concerned about her feet safety.”

CARRYING ON CLASSMATE’S SPIRIT

Jens, her roommate who probably spent the most time with Stryker outside of class, said she constantly reached out to people.

“We could be shopping in the grocery store and she’d talk to anyone we passed in the aisles,” he said.

After they decided to be roommates last fall, Stryker invited Jens to meet her family and to give him a tour of Boston, which was near her hometown of Winchester.

“I’d never really had a local show me around,” he said. “She really wanted to incorporate me into her life and that made me know she was a genuinely good person and wasn’t just looking for someone to pay the other half of the rent.”

Steven Ferro met Stryker on a rafting trip for incoming students last summer. They later started a peer support group on campus. He still can’t make sense of what happened to her.

“I just have an overwhelming feeling of wanting to take something positive from this,” he said. “Personally, she makes me want to be a better person. Now that she’s gone, I won’t see her again, I won’t be able to hug her, I won’t be able to speak to her, but I can carry within me that personality she had and I can try to affect others the way that she would have.”

Others, too, said they hope to keep some of Stryker’s warmth and compassion with them as they try to move forward.

“She had this playful, childish spirit and soul,” Schaffer said. “It was as if she would sing her words and seemed to just dance around. She was just joyful.”

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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