No Evidence of Hate Crime Has Emerged in Killing of Synagogue Leader, Officials Say

One day after the fatal stabbing of the leader of a synagogue in Detroit, authorities on Sunday said no evidence had emerged that suggested the killing was motivated by antisemitism.

But James White, the chief of the Detroit Police, said that his department and the Michigan State Police were still investigating the death of the leader, Samantha Woll, 40, who was the president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue. He continued to urge the public to be patient.

Ms. Woll was found with multiple stab wounds outside her home in the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood, about a mile from the synagogue she had led since last year. Surrounded by trees and small parks, it is considered one of the city’s most coveted neighborhoods for its access to greenery and proximity to downtown.

Chief White added that investigators were working with the F.B.I. to determine the timeline leading to Ms. Woll’s death.

Chief White’s comments came as people across the city continued to process the shock of the killing and mourn a figure who was praised for bringing different communities together and whose influence was felt well beyond the walls of her 102-year-old institution.

Samantha Woll was the president of the board at the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue.Credit…David Guralnick/Detroit News, via Associated Press

“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,” said Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan, at Ms. Woll’s funeral on Sunday afternoon.

At Hebrew Memorial Chapel in suburban Detroit, Ms. Woll’s parents and family members sat near her white coffin as many police officers and additional security guards stood nearby.

During the service, relatives, friends, synagogue members and government officials like Ms. Nessel, for whom Ms. Woll once worked as political director, spoke repeatedly about Ms. Woll’s openness, tireless energy and desire to connect people.

State Senator Stephanie Chang, a longtime friend, said that since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, Ms. Woll had been talking with Jewish and Muslim community leaders about helping civilians on the ground.

In an interview on Sunday, Rabbi Asher Lopatin, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC, a nonprofit in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., where Ms. Woll was on the board and was part of several of the organization’s committees, said that Ms. Woll led work on Black Jewish outreach initiatives and was involved in organizing gatherings between Jews and Muslims. She would always, he said, “draw out the best in everybody.”

Speaking at the funeral, he noted the diverse crowd in attendance, which he said represented what Ms. Woll was about. “We have in this room, Muslims and Hindus, Catholics and Christians and Jews and all kinds of races, and everyone loves Sam and was affirmed by Sam,” he said.

Rabbi Ariana Silverman of the Downtown Synagogue spoke about Ms. Woll’s recent work guiding the renovation of the synagogue, her leadership on fund-raising efforts and her openness to other viewpoints.

“She certainly had her own convictions,” Rabbi Silverman said, “but she would really listen to different ideas and had the remarkable ability to say, ‘Let me think about it, and I will get back to you.’”

Ms. Woll’s sister, Monica Woll Rosen, paid tribute to her sibling’s ambitions — and heart. “You so deeply wanted peace for this world,” she said. “You fought for everyone, regardless of who they were or where they came from. You were the definition of a leader.”

Jordan Acker, who has been friends with Ms. Woll for more than 20 years, marveled in an interview at Ms. Woll’s talent for being at ease in different settings. “She could seamlessly move from community to community,” he said. “It was just an incredible skill.”

On Sunday morning, Mr. Acker said that he picked up his children from Sunday school at a local synagogue, and though it was not the same synagogue that Ms. Woll or her family attended, he said that everyone there had a story about her.

“That’s the kind of impact that she had.”

Colbi Edmonds contributed reporting. Susan Beachy contributed research.

Related Articles

Back to top button