Mourners recall slain synagogue leader in Detroit; police say no evidence yet of hate crime

Mourners recall slain synagogue leader in Detroit; police say no evidence yet of hate crime

John Bacon

Violet Ikonomova

Andrea May Sahouri

Thao Nguyen
 USA TODAYplayShow CaptionHide Caption#videoDetailsToggle{color:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));cursor:pointer;display:inline-block;font-family:var(–sans-serif,sans-serif);font-size:var(–type-7);font-weight:var( –font-weight-bold,900);line-height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);margin-bottom:-8px}#vdt_hide{margin-bottom:10px}.vdt-flex[hidden]{display:none}.vdt-svg{fill:var( –color-dove-gray,rgba(0,0,0,.6));height:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px);width:var(–spacer-twentyfour,24px)}Samantha Woll, Detroit synagogue leader, fatally stabbedSamantha Woll, a prominent Detroit synagogue board president was found stabbed to death outside her home. Police do not have a motive or a suspect.

Corrections & Clarifications: An earlier version of this story misidentified Michigan State Sen. Stephanie Chang’s title.

DETROIT − Mourners attended a funeral service Sunday afternoon for a synagogue president found stabbed to death outside her home as investigators announced that they’ve found no evidence yet that the murder was driven by antisemitism.

Police Chief James White said on Sunday that there are no early indications that that the killing was motivated by hate. He added that investigators were working with the FBI to analyze forensic evidence to piece together a timeline leading to Woll’s death and more information would be revealed Monday.

“No evidence has surfaced suggesting that this crime was motivated by antisemitism,” White said in a statement. He did not elaborate on whether police have a motive in mind or a suspect.

The chief had previously urged the public to not draw conclusions until “all of the available facts are reviewed.” Late Saturday, he said in a statement that his department “has been leveraging every law enforcement and community resource it has to help further the investigation.”

Samantha Woll, 40, led the Isaac Agree Downtown Detroit Synagogue and was heavily involved in local, state and national politics. She previously worked for U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and Michigan State Sen. Stephanie Chang, and on the reelection campaign of Michigan’s Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel.

But as the Detroit community and loved ones gathered at the Hebrew Memorial Chapel in Oak Park, Michigan, on Sunday, Woll was remembered as more than a community leader. Speaking through tears and laughter, loved ones recalled Woll’s “infectious smile” and her ability to put people at ease − bringing the community together.

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Woll’s sister, Dr. Monica Woll Rosen, shared loving memories of her sister and described her as the “kindest, most generous human I’ve ever met.”

“Your soul was beautiful and pure. You loved with all your heart. You never said no but how can I help?” Woll Rosen added, addressing her late sister. “You so deeply wanted peace for this world. You fought for everyone regardless of who they were or where they came from. You were the definition of a leader. Our world is shattered without you.”

Mourners noted that attendees of the service included people belonging to many different religions, which friends and family said symbolized who Woll was. Many, including Nessel, had praised Woll for her sense of justice for all and the interfaith work she had done in the community.

Loved ones, such as family, friends and colleagues, spoke through tears and laughter as they spoke about her nature. They made jokes about her food allergies and how when she was complimented on something she wore, she would take it off and offer it.

Nessel called statements and sentiments about Woll “a fact” and “not an opinion,” especially Woll’s “passion for equal treatment for all people in every space.” Nessel shared that she had been looking at old photos and was amazed at how active Woll was.

“She was omnipresent,” Nessel joked. “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. I don’t know how she could be so many places at the same time.”

playSuspect in Detroit synagogue leader’s fatal death releasedA suspect arrested this week by Detroit police in a fatal stabbing of synagogue leader Samantha Woll was released without charges.

Synagogue leader fatally stabbed: Detroit police investigate motive

Police: No evidence of hate crime in death of Samantha Woll

Detroit police responded to a call that an unresponsive woman was found in the city’s upscale Lafayette Park neighborhood at 6:30 a.m. Saturday. Woll was pronounced dead of multiple stab wounds at the scene. A trail of blood led back to the victim’s nearby home, where investigators said she likely was fatally stabbed.

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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer described the killing as a “vicious crime” and urged the community to rally around friends and loved ones.

“My heart breaks for her family, her friends, her synagogue and all those who were lucky enough to know her,” Whitmer said in a statement, calling Woll “a source of light, a beacon in her community who worked hard to make Michigan a better place.”

Samantha Woll remembered as an ‘angel’ and for her interfaith work

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

Woll was well known in metro Detroit’s Jewish community and as a political and community activist. And although she loved to travel the world, “there was no one who loved the city of Detroit more,” her family wrote.

“She was an angel and there was truly no one kinder,” Woll’s family wrote in her obituary.

But “most importantly, Samantha was a ray of sunshine to all that knew her. She was the light in any room because of her beautiful smile and her warmth,” Woll’s family wrote. They’ll remember her joy, her infectious laugh. Her incredible compassion, tireless activism, her passion for making the world a better place.

The Michigan chapter of Council on American Islamic Relations called her death a “tragic loss” and noted interfaith work with Woll’s congregation, including a prayer vigil for the victims of the deadly 2018 attack on a Pennsylvania synagogue.

“We are troubled by the horrific murder of Samantha Woll, a beloved leader within her faith community in Metro Detroit,” Dawud Walid, the Muslim advocacy group’s executive director, said in a Saturday statement.

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Safety concerns for Jewish, Palestinians in US since war began

Security at synagogues and other sites across metro Detroit had been increased in the days since Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip crashed into Israel in a bloody attack Oct. 7. Hamas later called for a global “Day of Rage,” citing Israel’s violent counterattacks.

The war has heightened security concerns in Jewish, Israeli and Palestinian-linked communities across the United States. Worried about local attacks, leaders in many areas increased security and urged community members to be vigilant.

Contributing: Cybele Mayes-Osterman, Christopher Cann, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

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