Gwen Shamblin Lara was a well-known Christian diet guru who is now presumed dead in a Percy Priest Lake plane crash that also took the lives of six other people in Smyrna, Tennessee.
According to CNN, Rutherford County, Tennessee, government has now identified the victims of the Percy Priest plane crash as William J. Lara, Gwen S. Lara, Jennifer J. Martin, David L. Martin, Jessica Walters, Jonathan Walters, and Brandon Hannah. Hannah was Shamblin Lara’s son-in-law, and her husband also perished on the plane. The others who died were leaders in the church she founded, according to News Channel 5.
Her dieting advice linked weight loss to religious training and teaching and was controversial. Her church was labeled a “cult” by some, according to News Channel 5, which quoted her as saying to followers in a recording, “I have not been put in this position because I’m going to put up with you all’s disobedience.” A child abuse death of a child whose parents attended her church also caused controversy.
Authorities revealed that the Cessna C501 plane took off from Smyrna airport around 11 a.m. on May 29, 2021, and was going to Palm Beach International Airport.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Investigative Efforts Switched From a Rescue Effort to ‘a Recovery Effort’
Capt. Joshua Sanders of Rutherford County Fire and Rescue Department said in a news conference that crews arrived at 11 a.m. in the morning on May 29. “Our efforts have transitioned from a rescue effort to a recovery effort at this time… we know there were seven personnel on the aircraft at the time of departure…We are no longer looking for live victims at this point.”
He said notification of next of kin was ongoing. “We have conducted dive operations,” he said. Crews worked through the night to identify remains from the aircraft “and other evidence to assist the NTSB in their investigation.”
Sanders said he did not know how many flight hours the pilot had. The crash site “was in the water,” he said.
The public information officer for Rutherford County described a massive law enforcement response to the crash scene.
She described the plane as a “small jet that crashed into Percy Priest Lake around 11 a.m. on Saturday morning (May 29, 2021).” Boaters were asked to stay out of the way of public safety boats.
A video on Shamblin Lara’s website called “Life With Gwen & Joe” chronicled their religious beliefs and love for each other and showed them getting into small planes.
2. Shamblin Lara’s Plane Went Down for a ‘Controlled, Quick Landing,’ Her Daughter Wrote in a Text; She Was Born in Memphis
A text message from Shamblin Lara’s daughter Elizabeth Hannah emerged before authorities released the grim news that there were no survivors.
According to Daily Mail, the text said, “My brother and I are asking for immediate prayers right now. We have just gotten word that Gwen and Joe Lara’s plane had to go down for a controlled, quick landing.”
She added: “More information to come, but be in prayer – and be at peace. GOD IS IN CONTROL, and we will not stop moving forward with WHAT GOD WANTS with this church” and added that she and her brother, Michael Shamblin, “love this church and need the prayers of the righteous on this one.”
Shamblin Lara’s website says “Gwen Shamblin Lara was born and raised in Memphis. She grew up with a medical background, is a registered dietician and received her Master’s Degree in Food and Nutrition from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Gwen was an Instructor of Foods and Nutrition at the University of Memphis for five years, and she worked with the city’s Health Department for an additional five years, helping specifically in the areas of overweight, obesity, pregnancy, and child health. She has appeared on countless TV programs, consulted thousands of individuals and participated on various speaking panels as a health expert.”
The website added: By the late 1990s, Weigh Down was internationally known. Gwen Shamblin Lara was featured on such shows as 20/20, Larry King Live, and The View, as well as in such magazines as Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day. In 1997, Gwen responded to the nation’s request to offer the Weigh Down principles in book format, and The Weigh Down Diet was published by Doubleday, Inc. The book swiftly became a million-seller as people discovered the secrets to losing weight quickly and permanently while finding a new relationship with God…In 1999, Gwen founded the Remnant Fellowship Churches. She is continually producing/authoring new materials, which are used to help hurting families of every nationality discover the love of God that can set them free.”
The website said that Gwen “is married to Joe Lara, and between the two of them there are three children, and 8 grandchildren—they are surrounded by little ones! Joe, the children and their spouses are all very supportive and work closely nearby her.”
3. Shamblin Lara Ran the Remnant of the Kingdom of God Church, Which Faced Controversies Over the Years
Shamblin Lara ran the Remnant of the Kingdom of God church, which is located in Brentwood, Tennessee.
“Meet the Remnant of the Kingdom of God…an international community of people who are finding renewed hope, profound love and deep purpose by putting the undiluted teachings of Jesus Christ into practice,” the website for the church says.
“While divorce, depression, obesity and out-of-control children are increasingly the norm these days, at the Remnant we are experiencing healed marriages, increasing joy, restored health, repaired finances and children who love to follow the guidance of their parents.”
The website adds, “This Church has its roots founded in the Bible-based teachings of Gwen Shamblin through Weigh Down Ministries, who has a 30-plus years long-and-counting track record of helping people change their lives in every positive and productive way.”
We as a Church body come from all walks of life and widely varying socioeconomic backgrounds and ages; yet we have this in common—We can hardly contain our joy over how much our lives have changed for the better. If you are looking for answers to life’s most difficult hardships, longing for a solution as to why you are having trouble overcoming addictions and other struggles, or searching for hope and a real connection with God, please watch this video. In a world of tremendous upheaval and unknown days ahead, God is gathering together from the four corners of the Earth a group of humble people and leading them in a mighty restoration of His Church.
However, News Channel 5 reported that a child abuse death led to the conviction of two parishioners in 2003 and questions about whether Remnant believed in locking up children. Although Lara denied supporting such a method, the station uncovered a recording in which she told a mother who had done that, “That’s a miracle. You’ve got a child that’s going from just bizarre down to in-control. So I praise God.”
4. Shamblin Lara Promised Weight Loss Without Dieting, Bulimia or Over-Exercising But She Made Controversial Comments About the Holocaust
On Twitter, Lara called herself, “Founder of Weigh Down Ministries and New York Times Best-Selling Author of The Weigh Down Diet Book. Founder Remnant Fellowship Church International.”
On YouTube, she promised, “Weigh Down offers freedom and peace for the Millennial generation. You can lose weight without dieting, bulimia and over-exercising. Learn how to stop chasing selfish ambition and the world’s goals which only lead to anxiety and depression. Watch these young people who have found real purpose and joy by having a genuine connection with God.”
However, she made some controversial comments over the years, once explaining why she didn’t think genetics dictated weight loss by bringing up the Holocaust. “How in the Holocaust did you have all these people getting down real skinny? They ate less food,” she told CNN’s Larry King, according to News Channel 5. She lived a “lavish lifestyle,” the television station reported and was considered a “prophet” in her church.
When News Channel 5 asked whether she was a prophet, she responded, “I don’t believe I know what my gift name is. So I will tell you I’m still wrestling with that. I’ve been told that for years.”
Her top post, from May 27, reads, “When you give up the extra food you want, you get back jewels and blessings! So believe what Jesus said and follow in his steps—this week and forevermore!”
The day before that she wrote, “Jesus’ food was to finish the work of God. Take care of this responsibility first and foremost and lovingly pass this down to each child!”
5. Some of the Other Victims Are Featured in Videos on the Church Website
“Jonathan and Jessica have spent over half their lives in Remnant,” the website says of Jonathan and Jessica Walters, who perished in the crash. “Both joined as young adults, then married and have now have three children. Hear what drew them to the Church and what they feel it has done for them and their children.”
You can watch a video of the couple speaking about Remnant here.