Police seek help in church investigation

As they pore over boxes of materials seized from a faith-based weight-loss center last week, Franklin police are turning to the community for help.

Franklin officers began investigating Remnant Fellowship Church after detectives from Cobb County, Ga., asked for help in their investigation of the death of an 8-year-old Georgia boy, Franklin Deputy Chief Al Segal has said.

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 ReligionNewsBlog.com)

Official Site: Weigh Down Workshop (not endorsed, nor recommended by ReligionNewsBlog.com)

The church is affiliated with Weigh Down Workshop, a ministry with headquarters in Cool Springs.

Police are urging anyone with information about possibly ”questionable or illegal activities” within the church to contact the lead detective in the case, Rodney Escobar, according to a news release.

Segal and Escobar would not say what their department was investigating or whether it was related to the homicide investigation.

The weight-loss ministry and its affiliated Remnant Fellowship Church were founded by Brentwood resident Gwen Shamblin.

Shamblin could not be reached for comment yesterday, and a spokesman for the church did not return phone calls.

Escobar said he is still looking over evidence gathered last week at the Weigh Down Workshop facility in Cool Springs. Franklin officers executed two search warrants at the facility and a warehouse.

Joseph and Sonya Smith of Cobb County, Ga., were charged in December with felony murder, cruelty to a child and deprivation of a minor after the death of their son, Josef. The child died in October after suffering a blow to the head and was a victim of chronic child abuse, according to Cobb County police detective David Schweizer.

Schweizer said last week that he believed the death of the child could be linked to practices within the church, of which the Smiths were members.

While the church encourages parents to use spanking as a form of punishment, it has denied any wrongdoing and supports the Smiths’ contention that the boy’s death was accidental.

A separate investigation is continuing into the death of the Smiths’ 17-month-old son, Milek, in July, Schweizer said yesterday. The cause of death was initially listed as pneumonia.

The detective said he has received calls and e-mails about the church every day since his search of the Weigh Down Workshop headquarters last week. He said he’s referred all of them to Franklin police.

To contact detective

The Franklin Police Department has issued a public call for information about ”questionable or illegal activities” within Remnant Fellowship Church.

Police said calls should go to the lead detective in the case, Rodney Escobar. Call him at 615-550-6812 or e-mail him at rescobar@franklin-gov.com, police said.

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The Tennessean, USA
May 26, 2004
Holly Edwards, Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday May 26, 2004.
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