No evidence Detroit Jewish leader's fatal stabbing motivated by antisemitism, police say

BySara Smart and Nouran Salahieh, CNN
Monday, October 23, 2023
Detroit synagogue leader's fatal stabbing
Police have no evidence suggesting Detroit synagogue leader's stabbing was motivated by antisemitism, chief says.

DETROIT -- As authorities continue their investigation into the death of a Detroit synagogue leader found stabbed over the weekend, police chief James E. White said Sunday no evidence has surfaced suggesting the killing was motivated by antisemitism.

The body of Samantha Woll, president of the board of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, was discovered with multiple stab wounds at her home on Saturday morning, the Detroit Police Department said.

She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said they followed "a trail of blood" leading to her home, where it's believed the crime happened.

Authorities have not identified a suspect in the case and it's still unclear what led up to the killing.

Woll's family and friends gathered Sunday to share their final goodbyes during her funeral service.

They remembered her kindness and the love she had for other people while lamenting on the unknowns of why this happened to her.

In his statement Sunday, White, the police chief, said investigators are working with the FBI to "forensically analyze all of the information obtained up to this point in an effort to ascertain the timeline that ultimately led to Ms. Woll's death."

"Individuals with information that may further this investigation are being interviewed," White said.

"I again ask the community to remain patient while our investigators and law enforcement partners continue their work," the chief added.

A media update on the case will be provided Monday, White said.

FBI Detroit has provided "technical, forensic, and intelligence assistance" in the case at the request of the Detroit Police Department, the federal agency said.

Michigan State Police have also been assigned to support local police in the case, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced.

"Together, they will investigate this vicious crime and bring the perpetrator to justice," she added.

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

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said he and Woll were celebrating the newly renovated synagogue together just a few weeks ago.

"It was a project she successfully led with great pride and enthusiasm," Duggan said. "This entire city joins with her family and friends in mourning her tragic death."

An older sister, a loving aunt, a fierce advocate

During her funeral service on Sunday, Woll's family and friends remembered her infectious smile, her giving spirit, her willingness to listen, and her consistent push to build bridges between people and fight for social justice causes.

Woll's younger sister, Monica Woll Rosen, described how her sister would always rush to help others when they needed it.

She also noted how much Woll loved her friends and family - including her nieces and nephews, to whom she would always bring books and markers, so they could learn new things and also spend time being creative.

Before her killing, the last text message Woll sent was a heart to friend, "just because," her sister said.

On Saturday, another friend received flowers for their birthday that Woll had sent before she died.

"Your soul was beautiful and pure," Woll Rosen said during the service Sunday. "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."

Woll's brother-in-law Ben also recalled how she always worked to bring people together and read aloud a recent response Woll had sent during a "somewhat heated family email discussion."

"If and where there are disconnects between some of the people who follow Black Lives Matter and the Jewish community, then our communities need to engage with each other more, not less," Woll had written.

"This is your legacy," her brother-in-law said, "that we will always remember and carry forward."

In an obituary, Woll's loved ones wrote she loved "all forms of art," including theater and opera, loved being in nature, had worked with several political campaigns and was also involved with many interfaith organizations.

"She was unfailing in her commitment to living in the moment and always saw the good in everyone she met," it said. "Samantha will always be remembered for her tireless activism and for her passion to make the world a better place. She was an angel and there was truly no one kinder."

'She didn't deserve this'

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, whose campaign Woll had been part of, also spoke at the service, highlighting Woll's encouraging and compassionate character and her powerful ability to connect with others.

"She could charm everyone. She charmed celebrities and naysayers alike. Her warmth could persuade even the hardest heart of the loudest heckler," Nessel said. "Sam gave everything of herself but she asked for nothing in return."

"Samantha Woll may have been the nicest person that I have ever met, or will ever meet, in my lifetime," she said.

Moreno Taylor II, who worked with Woll on Nessel's reelection campaign in 2022, previously said her death was "a devastating loss."

"Sam was a bright ball of light," he told CNN. "She lit up every room that she walked into. She always had a huge smile. She always gave you a firm handshake and asked about you, wanted to get to know who you were."

He remembered Woll as a kind soul who was always involved in her community and was dedicated to giving back.

"She didn't deserve this, and I really hope that they find a resolution to this as soon as possible and find whoever is responsible," he said.

Taylor said he knew Woll for five years, and thought of her as a little sister.

"It's very difficult to imagine that someone who was so genuine and so kind could befall this kind of tragedy," he added.

Woll had also previously worked with Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin, according to a post on Slotkin's social media.

The congresswoman said Woll "dedicated her short life to building understanding across faiths, bringing light in the face of darkness."

The Democrat said Woll worked for her by helping set up the office and leading it throughout her first term.

"My heart aches that we have lost someone so dedicated to serving others in such a senseless act. I'll miss her relentless desire to serve & her bright smile seemingly everywhere across the Detroit area," the congresswoman said.

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