Police and prosecutors say that a 22-year-old medical student who on Saturday sought out the quiet of her neighborhood Massachusetts library was fatally attacked from behind as she studied, her assailant stabbing her 20 times as she tried desperately to escape.
Deane Kenny Stryker’s accused attacker, Jeffrey Yao, 23, of Winchester, also stabbed a 77-year-old man who ran to Stryker’s aid, according to officials with the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office. The man’s arm injuries were not life-threatening, but Stryker, who was stabbed in the head, chest and torso, was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Yao is charged with murder and assault with the intent to kill with a dangerous weapon, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said.
Ryan said the attack was unprovoked, and the pair apparently did not know one another.
Ryan said during a Saturday afternoon news conference that Stryker, who at that time had not been publicly identified pending notification of her family, was seated at a table in a reading room of the Winchester Public Library when Yao approached from behind with a hunting knife.
The knife had about a 10-inch blade, Ryan said.
As she was being attacked, Stryker stumbled into the main lobby of the library, apparently seeking out the front door, Ryan said. Multiple other library patrons tried to help her, including the elderly man who was injured.
“In attempting to do that, the 77-year-old male sustained several wounds, as well,” Ryan said.
The other patrons cornered Yao and held him there until police officers arrived and placed him under arrest. The knife, covered in blood, and a knife sheath were found on Yao, prosecutors said.
Winchester Police Chief Peter MacDonnell thanked the men and women who not only tried to assist the victim but who also kept Yao from leaving until the arresting officers got there. Library staff members were among those who stepped in.
Library officials expressed condolences on Facebook and announced that the library would be closed for several days.
“Our thoughts are with the young woman's family and those who were injured and deeply traumatized,” Ann Wirtanen, director of the library, wrote. “We are doing everything we can to cooperate with the investigation and will remain closed until at least Tuesday.”
Yao was held without bail following an arraignment Monday morning, Ryan’s office announced. He will have a status hearing on April 11.
According to live coverage from Boston 25 News, Assistant District Attorney Kate Cimini, one of the prosecutors on the case, argued that Stryker’s slaying was a “vicious, unprovoked attack” perpetrated in a public place.
Cimini also pointed out that Yao’s criminal history was peppered with arrests that subsequently ended in mental evaluations due to mental illness. Yao was most recently treated following an August arrest after he attempted to break into a neighbor’s home, the prosecutors said.
Neighbors told the Winchester Star that they were aware of Yao’s aggressive behavior for years. Jean Fox said she recalled hearing her neighbor screaming for help in August as Yao tried to break into his home.
“That was very unsettling, to hear him yell,” Fox told the newspaper.
Other neighbors said they had gone to police with concerns about Yao’s behavior. Leslie Luongo said her husband and daughter reported him.
“‘We’re aware of the situation,’ they said,” Luongo told the Star.
As for Yao’s current state of mind, J.W. Carney, the attorney representing Yao, told Boston 25 News that his client is in shock.
“He’s very flat. He’s just trying to make sense of where he is and why he’s there,” Carney said.
A friend of Stryker’s family, Brad Harrington, told Boston 25 News that her mother and two younger sisters are also struggling to make sense of what happened.
“Everybody was just so proud of her,” Harrington told the news station. “She was a remarkable kid. The family has shown tremendous resilience over the years when they’ve had to deal with struggles.”
Stryker and her siblings lost their father several years ago, Harrington said.
Stryker was a first-year student in the University of New England’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, studying at the school’s Biddeford, Maine, campus, the Portland Press Herald reported.
University of New England president James Herbert said in a statement Sunday that he was shocked and saddened by Stryker’s death.
“We send our deepest condolences to Deane’s family and friends, who are facing an unthinkable tragedy,” Herbert wrote in the statement, which was posted to Facebook. “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. She was an advocate for domestic violence and mental health awareness, and an active member of her college community.”
Dora Anne Mills, the university’s vice president for clinical affairs, described the College of Osteopathic Medicine as a highly competitive program that produces mostly primary care physicians, the Press Herald said.
“It’s a very tight-knit group,” Mills said, pointing out that first-year students tend to spend a lot of time together in study groups. “It’s going to be devastating for them. It is such a shock. It makes you question everything.”