Detroit synagogue president found fatally stabbed outside her home

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called Samantha Woll a “source of light, a beacon in her community who worked hard to make Michigan a better place.”

Samantha Woll, president of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, was found dead outside her Detroit home on Saturday, Oct. 21, 2023.

Samantha Woll

Many in metro Detroit are still reeling after news that Samantha Woll, the president of a Detroit synagogue and a pillar of her community, was stabbed to death outside her Lafayette Park home on Saturday.

Woll, who led the Isaac Agree Downtown Detroit Synagogue since 2022, was found dead at the scene Saturday morning, police reported. The 40-year-old was also a former aide to Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin and a campaign staffer for Attorney General Dana Nessel.

“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.”

Many members of the Jewish community in metro Detroit, friends and family took to social media on Saturday and Sunday to pay tribute to Woll, a social justice activist who formerly served as chairperson of both the Tzedek (social action) group and the Volunteers in Action group at University of Michigan Hillel.

“Heartbroken over the loss of Sam Woll,” said Kate Zenlea, of Huntington Woods. “Such an earnestly kind and gentle soul. She brought so much light to the Detroit community (and beyond) and led with such strength, reliability and vision.”

Rabbi Jason Miller, of Farmington Hills, spoke of Woll’s strong leadership and unabashed passion for social justice issues close to her heart.

“From Muslim-Jewish relations to Israel to reproductive rights to income inequality, Sam was always fired up. She wanted to fix our broken world,” he said. “This was her agenda on a daily basis. I might not have always agreed with her opinion, but I respected it and I was always left in awe of how much she knew and how much she cared.”

Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib also expressed disbelief over the loss on Saturday, calling Woll a friend and “member of our organizing community.”

“I have no words,” she said on Facebook. “She always had a sweet smile to offer and the warmest eyes to greet you. Our community is devastated and we are shocked.”

Listen: Samantha Woll spoke with WDET’s Amy Miller in 2015 about local efforts to bridge the gap between Muslim and Jewish communities

Around 6:30 a.m., officers observed a trail of blood leading to Woll’s home, where the crime is believed to have occurred, said Detroit police Cpl. Dan Donakowski. Detroit Police Chief James E. White said the killing has left many unanswered questions, and he asked the public to be patient as investigators examine all available  evidence. Police have not identified a possible motive, the Detroit Free Press reported.

“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,” White said in a statement released Saturday night. “An update on the investigation will be forthcoming tomorrow.”

In a statement, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Woll’s death was heartbreaking.

“She was a source of light, a beacon in her community who worked hard to make Michigan a better place,” the governor said.

Michigan State Police were assigned to support the Detroit Police Department in the investigation, Whitmer said.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan referred to Woll as 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.”

“Sam’s loss has left a huge hole in the Detroit community,” he said. “This entire city joins with her family and friends in mourning her tragic death.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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  • Jenny Sherman
    Jenny Sherman is 101.9 WDET's Digital Editor. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Michigan State University and has worked for more than a decade as a reporter and editor for various media outlets throughout metro Detroit.