Synagogue leader fatally stabbed in Detroit, police investigate motive

Synagogue leader fatally stabbed in Detroit, police investigate motive

Violet Ikonomova

Eduardo Cuevas

Krystal Nurse
 USA TODAY NETWORKplayShow 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.

A prominent Detroit synagogue board president was found stabbed to death early Saturday outside her home. Police have yet to identify a motive or a suspect in her killing.

Samantha Woll, 40, was found outside her home in a neighborhood east of downtown Detroit. She was the board president of Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, worked for Democratic U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin and was on the reelection campaign of Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, also a Democrat.

Religious leaders and public officials decried the killing.

The American Jewish Committee said it was “heartbroken” at the news, calling her a “ray of sunlight to all who knew her” and “a passionate Muslim-Jewish bridge builder.” Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan recalled meeting with Woll during a dedication of a renovated synagogue, a project he said she led “with great pride and enthusiasm.”

U.S. Rep Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who is Palestinian American and Muslim and represents Detroit, posted on Facebook: “My friend, and a member of our organizing community, Sam Woll, was murdered. I have no words. She always had a sweet smile to offer and the warmest eyes to greet you. Our community is devastated and we are shocked. Please keep her family and our community in your prayers.”

Detroit Police offered no clarity about the motive behind the killing by the end of the day, but Chief James White said Saturday night the department was continuing to investigate.

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“Understandably, this crime leaves many unanswered questions,” he said in a statement. “This matter is under investigation, and I am asking that everyone remain patient while investigators carefully examine every aspect of the available evidence. It is important that no conclusions be drawn until all of the available facts are reviewed.”

Earlier, Detroit police said they were investigating a report that a woman had been found unresponsive, with multiple stab wounds, in the 1300 block of Joliet Place in the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood. A trail of blood led back to the victim’s home, where police said they believe the crime occurred.

Officials pronounced Woll dead at the scene.

The FBI was aware of the case and has been assisting Detroit police as requested, said Gabrielle Szlenkier, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Detroit field office, in an email. The FBI referred all questions to local police.

Well-connected leader, attended wedding night before

Woll led the synagogue’s board since 2022 and was involved in other local Jewish organizations. A statement sent by Rabbi Ariana Silverman said the synagogue was “shocked and saddened,” by Woll’s “unexpected death.”

“At this point, we do not have more information,” the statement said, “but will share more when it becomes available. May her memory be a blessing.”

Woll spent much of her career in state and local politics, working on or managing campaigns of Nessel, state Sen. Stephanie Chang, and Denzel McCampbell, who ran for Detroit City Clerk and others.

Chang and Woll attended a wedding together the night before Woll’s body was found, and was photographed smiling alongside the bride and groom. Chang and Woll met as students at the University of Michigan more than 15 years ago and remained friends.

“A lot of good” things were happening in Woll’s life, Chang said in an interview with the Detroit Free Press. In addition to leading the reopening and renovation of the downtown synagogue, she was poised to get a new job.

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“She was endlessly positive, just a wonderful person who was doing so much good and could bring so much happiness and joy,” Chang said.

Democratic state Rep. Noah Arbit posted on Facebook he was “broken and unable to move” at the news of Woll’s murder. He said she was the kindest and most beautiful soul taken away in “the most evil, brutal way.

“Sam was committed to justice and equality. In her name we will never give up. Baruch Dayan Emet, Sam. You were so loved and cherished.”

Woll remembered for her compassion, activism

Sloktin posted a tribute on her official Facebook page saying Woll sought to bring people together and cared deeply about helping others.

“Separately, in politics & in the Jewish community, she dedicated her short life to building understanding across faiths, bringing light in the face of darkness,” the congresswoman wrote.

Woll will be missed, Sloktin wrote, for her desire to serve and the bright smile she brought across the Detroit area.

“I am shocked, saddened and horrified to learn of Sam’s brutal murder,” Nessel said in a statement posted on X. “Sam was as kind a person as I’ve ever known. She was driven by her sincere love of her community, state and country. Sam truly used her faith and activism to create a better place for everyone.”

Woll, who previously worked in constituent relations for Chang, was selected as one of The Detroit Jewish News’ “36 under 36” in 2017.

According to the outlet, Woll helped lead the American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS Detroit Young Leadership Program and founded the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit, a grassroots organization aimed to build relationships between young adults of those faiths.

“By extending her hand and creating space for connection between Muslims and Jews, she has exemplified the values of healing the world,” The Detroit Jewish News article said.

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