The president of a synagogue in Detroit who was known as one of the city’s most vibrant religious leaders was found killed near her home on Saturday. Authorities have not yet determined a motive.
The president, Samantha Woll, 40, led the board of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, a century-old institution that is the only free-standing synagogue in downtown Detroit, according to its website.
Detroit police released a statement Saturday saying that a woman had been found unresponsive in the morning on a street east of downtown and that she had been declared dead at the scene. The statement did not name Woll, but the location was near her home address. The woman had multiple stab wounds, the statement said, and officers observed a trail of blood that led to the victim’s home, where police said they believed the attack occurred.
On Saturday evening, Michigan state police confirmed that they were investigating Woll’s death with Detroit police. Authorities are asking anyone with information to come forward. In a statement, Detroit police Chief James E. White urged patience with the investigation and cautioned against drawing conclusions.
Before leading the synagogue, Woll worked extensively in Democratic state politics. She was a political director for Dana Nessel, the attorney general of Michigan. She was also a campaign manager for state Sen. Stephanie Chang and a deputy on the staff of U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, according to Woll’s LinkedIn profile.
“I am shocked, saddened and horrified to learn of Sam’s brutal murder,” Nessel said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Sam truly used her faith and activism to create a better place for everyone.”
Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said in a statement on X that Woll had been one of the city’s “great young leaders” and recalled a moment just weeks ago when they celebrated the renovation of the synagogue, which Woll had helped guide.
“Sam’s loss has left a huge hole in the Detroit community,” Duggan said. “This entire city joins with her family and friends in mourning her tragic death.”
Since the synagogue’s inception, a large portion of the city’s Jewish community has moved to the suburbs. But Woll sought to “make Jewish life in the city more exciting,” said state Sen. Jeremy Moss, who had known Woll since childhood.
“I’m so stunned by all of this,” he said in a phone call. “I just saw her last week.”
Moss said that Woll had been highly involved in Jewish community activism and that she was always trying to get more people to participate, adding that she had been proud of the renovations as a way to create a more “innovative” atmosphere.
“She was a burst of energy and optimism,” Moss said. “She was just somebody we all admired.”
Woll was included in the feature article “36 Under 36” by The Detroit Jewish News in 2017, which said she had been “instrumental” in founding the Muslim-Jewish Forum of Detroit that facilitated relationships between those communities.
On social media, Chang recalled fond memories with Woll, whom she met during their undergraduate years at the University of Michigan. Woll helped Chang with all her campaigns, but she was more than just a colleague, Chang said — she was a “beautiful friend.”
“Sam is already missed, and the brutality of her death is beyond words,” Chang wrote on Facebook. “Detroit, Michigan and the world were so lucky to have her light shine for the 40 years we had her.”
The Downtown Synagogue said on Facebook that it did not have more information on Woll’s death, but that it would share more when it became available.
“May her memory be a blessing,” the organization wrote.
Mitch Smith contributed reporting