No evidence of hate crime, police say as slain Detroit synagogue president mourned as devoted leader

Oct 22, 2023, 7:57 AM | Updated: Oct 23, 2023, 2:58 am

A Detroit synagogue president who was fatally stabbed at her home was remembered Sunday by family, friends and top Michigan officials as a generous, thoughtful leader who built bridges between communities.

As mourners gathered to pay respects to Samantha Woll, police said their ongoing investigation of her killing found no evidence of antisemitism as a motive.

The 40-year-old Woll, or “Sam” as she was known to friends and family, led the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, and was a campaign staffer for Attorney General Dana Nessel and former aide to Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin.

“You so deeply wanted peace for this world. You fought for everyone regardless of who they were or where they came from,” said Monica Woll Rosen, directly addressing her late sister before mourners at the Jewish funeral home. “You were the definition of a leader. Our world is shattered without you.”

Woll’s body was found at her home Saturday morning after a caller alerted officers to a person lying on the ground unresponsive. Officers followed a “trail of blood” to Woll’s home, where authorities believe she was killed, Cpl. Dan Donakowski said.

Police Chief James E. White said Sunday that investigators were working with the FBI to analyze forensic evidence to piece together a timeline leading to Woll’s death. That included interviewing “individuals with information that may further this investigation.”

White, who had asked the public not to draw quick conclusions, added that “no evidence has surfaced suggesting that this crime was motivated by antisemitism.” He said more information would come Monday.

Woll was born and raised in the Detroit area, and was a University of Michigan graduate. She became the president of the board of directors at Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue in 2022.

Mourners noted the crowd was comprised of people belonging to many different religions, which friends and family said symbolized who Woll was. She was credited for her interfaith work, including by Muslim advocacy groups. Family members said she looked for ways to connect to other movements, including Black Lives Matter.

Colleagues remembered how she loved travel, the arts and had an “infectious smile” that would light up a room. The service included moments of levity about her nature, with jokes about her food allergies and how when she was complimented on something she wore, she would remove it and give it away.

Nessel, who called Woll one of her most enthusiastic supporters, said she had been looking at old photos and marveling at how active she was.

“She was at every campaign event, every political protest, every religious service, every ribbon cutting. I think I saw her in a picture of the moon landing,” Nessel joked. “I don’t know how she could be so many places at the same time.”

The last text message Woll sent was a heart to a friend, according to her sister.

“You sent hearts to cheer people up and let them know you were thinking of them because you cared,” Monica Woll Rosen said, addressing her late sister. “A light has gone out in Detroit, in our hearts, for our people, for the world.”


Tareen reported from Chicago.

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No evidence of hate crime, police say as slain Detroit synagogue president mourned as devoted leader