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No evidence of hate crime in synagogue president’s killing, say Detroit police

Detroit police officials on Monday reiterated their belief that the killing of synagogue president Samantha Woll over the weekend does not appear to be a hate crime – but have yet to describe any theory or motivation for her murder.

“Right now the evidence doesn’t take us there,” said Detroit’s police chief, James White, at a press conference on Monday. “When we talk about hate crimes, there are certain tracks they take. We’re confident that we don’t have any indication of that at this point.”

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White also confirmed that investigators do not believe Woll’s murder on Saturday in her home was a home invasion. But White said investigators were not yet ready to elevate any person or persons of interest to the level of suspect.

“We haven’t disqualified anyone yet, but there are a number of people investigators are looking at, but none as yet rise to the level of suspect.” he said. White called Woll’s murder “horrific and tragic” but “not a hate crime”.

Woll, 40, was found stabbed to death near her home in the city’s Lafayette Park neighborhood on Saturday morning. Police have indicated that the stabbing probably occurred in her home and that blood spatters indicated she had left the home before collapsing in the street.

Elevated tensions around antisemitism as well as Islamophobia in the US and other countries amid the Israel-Hamas war have led to speculation that Woll’s murder could have been motivated by religious hatred. But with that theory discounted by police, investigators are looking at people within her circle of acquaintances.

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“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. This takes time and I am asking for patience,” White said.

At Woll’s funeral on Sunday, the Michigan attorney general, Dana Nessel, and state senator Stephanie Chang gave tearful eulogies before about 1,000 mourners at the Hebrew Memorial Chapel in Oak Park. Woll had worked on Nessel and Chang’s political campaigns, as well as Michigan congresswoman Elissa Slotkin’s, all Democrats.

The Jewish Federation said in a statement that the group remained in close contact with the Detroit police department, the FBI and the Detroit mayor’s office.

“We also want to assure our community that Jewish Community Security Inc [a Detroit security service] has remained vigilant and alert regarding the security of our Jewish day schools, synagogues and other institutions. There are no specific or credible threats to our community at this time,” the statement said.

Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan’s 12th congressional district, the only Palestinian American member of the House, also expressed her sorrow at Woll’s murder.

“My friend, and a member of our organizing community, Sam Woll, was murdered. I have no words. She always had a sweet smile to offer and the warmest eyes to greet you. Our community is devastated and we are shocked,” Tlaib wrote in a Facebook post.