Detectives seize files from Weigh Down
FRANKLIN — A Georgia detective says he believes he has tied the death of an 8-year-old boy to a Williamson County-based ministry, but the organization has issued a statement saying it has done nothing wrong and believes the death was accidental.
Cobb County Police detective David Schweizer and a group of Franklin police detectives searched the office and warehouses of Weigh Down Ministries in Cool Springs yesterday, collecting files and computer disks.
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The daylong search is a continuation of the case against Joseph and Sonya Smith, members of the Weigh Down-affiliated Remnant Fellowship Church. The Smiths were charged in December with felony murder, cruelty to a child and deprivation of a minor in the October death of their son, Josef.
”This is part of that investigation,” Schweizer said of the search efforts. ”We already have a link. We knew the family was a member of the church. I’m trying to tie my case into a nice, neat knot so I can send it on to the prosecution.”
Franklin police also are conducting an investigation of the ministry, Deputy Police Chief Al Segal said. He would not discuss details of it. No arrests have been made.
Police arrested the Cobb County boy’s parents after the child received what Schweizer called a ”blunt force trauma to the head.” He said the case, which has not gone to trial, was one of ”chronic child abuse.”
The faith-based weight-loss program, Weigh Down, and its affiliated church were founded by diet guru and Brentwood resident Gwen Shamblin. Her best-selling book, The Weigh Down Diet, launched a worldwide program with workshops that meet weekly in more than 30,000 locations, according to the ministry’s Web site.
While Remnant Fellowship promotes discipline for children, including what its Web site describes as ”traditional spankings,” Shamblin and other church members have supported the Smiths’ stance that Josef died from an accident-related injury.
The Web site, remnantfellowship.org, includes a statement labeled ”Media response.” Here is an excerpt:
”Recently, one of our members lost a child, and the death was tragic and devastating to all of us. The death of Josef Mykel Smith was the direct result of a tragic accident witnessed by his older brother. … It is an extreme leap of logic by journalists and media to say that traditional spankings and groundings of a child to his bedroom is in any way associated with a head injury.”
The statement urged the public not to ”rush to judgment without presenting all the facts” and promised more information when the Smith case has gone through the courts.
”Due to the ‘ambush’ style and sensationalized ‘gotcha’ journalism that we have recently seen, and out of respect for the legal procedures, we have chosen not to comment any more on this family’s case until they have been acquitted of the allegation and released by the court,” the Weigh Down and Remnant Fellowship statement said.