Detroit synagogue president Samantha Woll found fatally stabbed outside home

A politically connected Detroit synagogue president was found stabbed to death Saturday morning outside her home in the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood, east of downtown.

Samantha Woll, 40, led the Isaac Agree Downtown Detroit Synagogue and previously worked for U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly, and on the reelection campaign of Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat.

Police said in an afternoon statement that they were investigating after finding a body stabbed multiple times in the 1300 block of Joliet Place. A trail of blood led to the victim’s home, where police said they believe the crime occurred.

Detroit Police Chief James White asked for patience in a statement released Saturday evening and said an update on the investigation would come Sunday. “Over the course of the last several hours, the DPD has mobilized many of its resources and has been leveraging every law enforcement and community resource it has to help further the investigation. Understandably, this crime leaves many unanswered questions.”

“I am shocked, saddened and horrified to learn of Sam’s brutal murder,” Nessel said in a statement. “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.”

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan called Woll one of Detroit’s “great young leaders” and said he recently met with her at the dedication of the renovated synagogue, a project he said she led “with great pride and enthusiasm.”

In a social media post, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, called Woll a friend and an organizing community member who had a sweet smile and warm eyes to greet you. “Our community is devastated and we are shocked. Please keep her family and our community in your prayers.”

Woll had led the synagogue since 2022 and was involved in other local Jewish organizations. A statement sent by its rabbi said it was “shocked and saddened,” by Woll’s “unexpected death.”

Police have not yet identified a motive, they said. They were called to a woman found lying on the ground unresponsive at about 6:30 a.m. and pronounced her dead at the scene, they said.

The FBI is aware of the case and is 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.

As of Saturday afternoon, police were still in the area where Woll was killed — an upscale townhome district designed by the famed architect, Mies van der Rohe. The adjoining properties were surrounded by caution tape and a Michigan State Police K-9 was seen sniffing in bushes.

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

For Chang, Woll was not only a colleague, but a friend. They met as students at the University of Michigan about 20 years ago. The night before Woll’s body was found, they attended a wedding together and were photographed smiling alongside the bride and groom.

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

“She was endlessly positive, just a wonderful person who was doing so much good and could bring so much happiness and joy,” Chang said. “She did not deserve this.”

Woll worked for Slotkin as a deputy district manager from 2019 through 2021, a role that “came so naturally to her,” Slotkin said, because it involved helping others.

“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 said on X, formerly Twitter. “I’ll miss her relentless desire to serve & her bright smile seemingly everywhere across the Detroit area.”

In 2017, The Detroit Jewish News selected Woll as one of its “36 under 36,” describing her as co-chair of the American Jewish Committee’s ACCESS Detroit Young Leadership Program and founder of the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit, a grassroots organization aimed at building 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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