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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Andrea Blanco

Synagogue leader Samantha Woll was stabbed to death in her home. Police have no idea why


Just a mile from the Michigan synagogue that she had led since last year, Samantha Woll’s lifeless body was found in the early morning hours of Saturday. Outside her home in the Lafayette Park neighbourhood, Detroit police officers followed a trail of blood to the disturbing scene.

The brutal stabbing of the beloved president at Isaac Agree Downtown synagogue has shocked the local community and city officials, who have remembered her as a beacon of light in the community who sought to build bridges between Jews and Muslims.

Few details about the murder will be released in order to protect the investigation, Chief James White said during a press conference on Monday, but the evidence suggests that the killing was not motivated by antisemitic sentiments.

Woll, who once worked as a former aide to Democratic Rep Elissa Slotkin and as a campaign staffer for Attorney General Dana Nessel, was laid to rest on Sunday during a ceremony with more than 1,000 attendees.

Authorities have yet to determine a motive in the homicide but Chief White said on Monday that investigators have identified “some persons of interest.”

Here’s everything we know about the case:

Who was Samantha Woll?

Woll led the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue since 2022.

She has been remembered by loved ones as a leader who worked to unite people through her interfaith work. Dawud Walid, president of the Council on American Islamic Relations’s Michigan chapter, called Woll’s death a “tragic loss” and praised her efforts to unite the Jewish and Muslim communities in Detroit.

“We are troubled by the apparent homicide of Samantha Woll, a beloved leader within her faith community in Metro Detroit,” Mr Walid said in a statement. “We also send our sincere condolences to her family and friends and to the Detroit Jewish community as a whole for the tragic loss.”

According to a 2017 article by The Detroit Jewish News, Woll was “instrumental in the founding of the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit,” an alliance that helps build bonds between Jewish and Muslim youth.

In this photo released by Kimberly Bush, Samantha Woll, left, poses with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel on 4 September, 2022
— (Kimberly Bush)

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

More than 1,000 people attended Woll’s funeral on Sunday, the Detroit Free Press reports. Senator Stephanie Chang and AG Nessell were among the attendees who delivered heartfelt eulogies during the service.

“Sam did more for our community, our state, our world, our lives in her short time here on Earth than most will ever accomplish in 1,000 lifetimes,” Ms Nessel said in her eulogy, according to The New York Times.

Sen Chang also said that Woll had devoted her time to listening to Muslim and Jewish members of her community following the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel. Meanwhile, Woll’s sister Monica Woll Rosen shared with mourners how the slain synagogue president “fought for everyone.”

“You sent hearts to cheer people up and let them know you’re thinking of them — because you cared,” Ms Woll Rosen said, revealing that a friend of her late sister had received flowers from her on the day of her death, according to The New York Post.

“That was you, Sam,” Ms Woll Rosen added. “You didn’t even ask. You just sent flowers and signed 10 other people’s names because you knew it would make the receiver happy — and the others would have wanted to say happy birthday if they knew it was your birthday.”

What do we know about the stabbing?

Law enforcement said that police received a 911 call reporting a person lying on the ground unresponsive around 6.30am on Saturday.

When officers arrived at the scene, they followed a trail of blood that led them to Woll’s residence.

A law enforcement agent walks near the scene near the scene where a Detroit synagogue president, Samantha Woll, was found dead

Woll was stabbed multiple times inside her home, Chief White said on Monday. It is believed she then stumbled outside the house and eventually collapsed on the sidewalk.

The chief said there was no evidence of forced entry at Woll’s home and there were no signs that she tried to defend herself.

He added that investigators are trying to establish a timeline of the days and hours leading to Woll’s death.

Woll was last seen attending a wedding on Friday evening, which she left at around 12.30am.

“By all accounts, she was not in any discomfort, she was her normal pleasant self,” Chief White told reporters.

Detroit police officers work near the scene where Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue president, Samantha Woll, was found dead
— (AFP via Getty Images)

The chief said that his agency is working in partnership with the FBI and Michigan State Police and has already identified persons of interest.

“We are working through what we have identified as some persons of interest ... but we are very early in the investigation,” he said, adding that Woll might or might have not known her killer. “We have a number of people who give us interest, we are just short of calling one of the people a suspect.”

Chief White said investigators have not zeroed in on a specific person and all those who have been interviewed by law enforcement so far have been cooperative.

Surveillance footage in the neighbourhood does not point directly at residences, making it difficult for investigators to determine who was in the vicinity of Woll’s home around the time she was killed. However, the video could be used to determine travel routes, Chief White said.

Police have encouraged neighbours to reach out to investigators with any details they recall from the early morning hours of Saturday, no matter how small it may seem.

“If they saw anything ... if they saw someone who is not known to the neighbourhood, someone who was there earlier in the week, or someone who was lurking around, certainly let us know,” the chief said. “Check your video cameras at home, share anything you know with us.”

What was the motive?

A motive in Woll’s murder has yet to be established. The possibility of a home invasion has been ruled out.

Detroit police corporal Dan Donakowski said during an update on Sunday that Woll’s death is being investigated as a homicide but there is no evidence suggesting the murder was a hate crime. He said that investigators had found a large Israeli flag in Woll’s home that was left untouched, according to ClickOnDetroit.

Chief White said on Monday that his department is seeking a suspect believed to have acted alone, and noted he doesn’t think there is a threat to the community at large. He also asked the public to be patient and not jump to conclusions as evidence is reviewed and processed.

“We are not in the position to discuss [details,]” Chief White said. “There are certain factors that are only shared by the suspect and our investigators.”

Authorities have asked anyone with information to reach investigators at 1-800-SPEAK-UP.

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