Child’s death prompts investigation of Franklin religious movement

A murder investigation has brought officers from Georgia to Middle Tennessee. They’re looking into a possible link between a child’s death and a Williamson County religious movement.

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Investigators want to know if the teachings of the Remnant Fellowship in some way led to the murder of an 8-year-old boy. Investigators removed boxes of evidence from the Weigh-Down Workshop in Cool Springs on Wednesday. What they found could be a link to a child murder investigation in Georgia.

Joseph and Sonya Smith, the parents of an 8-year-old boy named Josef, are charged with killing him. Now Georgia police are in Middle Tennessee to find out if the religious movement that the Smith’s belonged to somehow played a role in the boy’s death.

Gwen Shamblin

Theologically, Gwen Shamblin’s ministries are considered cults of Christianity, due to their rejection of key doctrines of the Christian faith. Sociologically, Shamblin’s Remnant Fellowship has cultic characteristics as well.

Official site: Remnant Fellowship (not endorsed, nor recommended by

Official Site: Weigh Down Workshop (not endorsed, nor recommended by

Cobb County Police Det. David Schweizer said, “I knew that the family was a member of the church. I’m just trying up loose ends.”

The Remnant Fellowship is based in Williamson County. Investigators want to know if the teachings of founder Gwen Shamblin encouraged the couple to use strict discipline on their child – discipline that may have led to his death.

“The medical examiner ruled his death blunt-force trauma to the head, but it also entails acute and chronic child abuse. It’s not one or the other, its a combination,” said Det. Schweizer.

Shamblin’s response on her website to the investigation stated: “It is an extreme leap of logic by journalists and media to say that traditional spankings and groundings a child to his bedroom is in any way associated with a head injury.”

Now Franklin police are conducting their own separate investigation into the Weigh-Down Workshop and Remnant Fellowship, which now has 130 chapters throughout the United States, Canada and the Bahamas.

Franklin Police Deputy Chief Al Segal said, “It is an ongoing investigation. At this point in time, I’m just not willing to tell you anything about it. It’s still a big puzzle, and we’re still at that stage where we’re looking at the puzzle.”

Police say that 8-year-old Josef was beaten so severely that his brain swelled, and bruises covered much of his body. The boy also had a younger brother who died last July. At first, investigators thought it was pneumonia, but now they’re investigaing his death. Two other children have been removed from the home.

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May 20, 2004

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday May 20, 2004.
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