Authorities conducting ‘countless interviews’ to determine a suspect and motive in Detroit synagogue leader’s fatal stabbing

Authorities are conducting “countless interviews” as they try to piece together what happened in the days and hours before beloved synagogue leader Samantha Woll was found fatally stabbed Saturday morning, Detroit Police Deputy Chief Kari Sloan said Monday.

“We are examining every piece of evidence we have uncovered to determine what exactly led to this incident,” Sloan said during an afternoon news conference. “We have and are in the process of conducting countless interviews to learn everything about Ms. Woll’s life, including any possible motive or opportunity to harm her.”

What authorities know thus far is Woll attended a wedding Friday evening during which she appeared normal and not in distress, according to a Monday update on the case. She returned home around 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Sloan said, and there were no signs of forced entry at her house.

“By all accounts, she was not in any discomfort, in any distress (at the wedding). She was her normal positive and pleasant self, as described by some people that we have interviewed,” Detroit Police Chief James White said.

White added investigators are also looking into Woll’s route home. “We’ll be tracking her entire route digitally that she took from the wedding, to see if anyone was following her.”

Woll was found dead at roughly 6:30 a.m. outside her home. She appears to have stumbled out after she was attacked, White said.

Authorities do not believe at this time that the crime was motivated by antisemitism, White said, adding police believe the assailant acted alone. The chief did not offer further details, citing the ongoing investigation.

“We have a number of people that give us interest, we are just short of calling one of the people a suspect, but we are working to that end,” the chief said. “We are confident that we’re going to develop a suspect, we’re not there right now as of this press conference.”

“We certainly know that this is a dangerous person and this is why we’re working tirelessly to identify a suspect and get the right suspect off the street,” White later added.

Woll had a large Israeli flag in her apartment that was left untouched, a law enforcement source told CNN earlier.

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

Michigan State Police have been assigned to support local police in the case, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said, adding, “Together, they will investigate this vicious crime and bring the perpetrator to justice.”

‘Your soul was beautiful and pure’

The police update comes a day after Woll’s friends and family gathered to share their final goodbyes during a packed funeral service, remembering her kindness, generosity and dedication to helping others.

“Your soul was beautiful and pure,” Woll’s younger sister Monica Woll Rosen said Sunday as she stood next to her white casket. “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 so loved her family and would always rush to help others who needed it, her sister said.

“Our world is shattered without you,” Woll Rosen said. “You brought us light.”

Woll was president of the board of the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, served on the ritual committee, worked on the building’s renovation and reopening and spearheaded fundraising, among other responsibilities, Rabbi Ariana Silverman said.

“Sam had a uniquely special, personal relationship with countless people across lines of faith and race and politics and all of the things that usually divide us,” Silverman said. “So many people think of her as someone with whom they had a particularly close or important relationship, and each of them is right.”

One after the other, speakers at her funeral recalled Woll’s infectious smile, her giving spirit, her willingness to listen and her consistent push to build bridges between people and fight for social justice.

The last text message Woll sent before her killing was a heart to a friend, “just because,” her sister said. After she died, flowers Woll earlier had sent arrived Saturday at another friend’s home for their birthday.

“She believed in humanity, which of course is a terrible irony for today,” said Rabbi Steven Rubenstein of Congregation Beth Ahm in West Bloomfield, Michigan.

A funeral service is held Sunday for Samantha Woll in Michigan. - CNN
A funeral service is held Sunday for Samantha Woll in Michigan. - CNN

‘A light has gone out in Detroit’

The night before Woll’s body was discovered, Michigan state Sen. Stephanie Chang said she saw her at the wedding.

The pair discussed Woll’s excitement over a new job and how things were going at Woll’s synagogue and in her neighborhood, Lafayette Park, Chang said. Woll ended up meeting and befriending a couple and was still in deep conversation Friday evening when Chang and her daughter said goodbye.

“I’m so, so glad that my last memories of Sam are of happiness and love,” Chang said through tears.

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.

Samantha Woll poses for a photo in Detroit on October 13, 2022.  - David Guralnick/AP
Samantha Woll poses for a photo in Detroit on October 13, 2022. - David Guralnick/AP

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.”

Woll loved spending time with her nieces and nephews and often brought them markers and books from around the world, her sister said.

Woll was also an artist, leaving behind paintings that now hang in her loved ones’ homes and offices, Woll Rosen said.

“Sam, I feel like I’m about to wake up from a horrible nightmare and you’ll be next to me hugging me and holding me,” Woll Rosen said, addressing her sister at her funeral. “This is not supposed to happen. I’ll never understand why it did. A light has gone out in Detroit, in our hearts, for our people, for the world.”

Clarification: This story clarifies where police found Woll’s body.

CNN’s Sara Smart, Andy Rose, Evan Perez, Nicole Grether, Polo Sandoval and Evan Perez contributed to this report.

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