Controversial Tennessee church founder, actor husband among 7 presumed dead in plane crash

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Credit: BEVERLY HILLS, CA – JANUARY 22: Actor Joe Lara arrives at the 6th Annual Living Legends of Aviation Awards ceremony at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 22, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images) Courtesy: AP images, Gwen Lara

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (WKRN) – The founder of a controversial church in Brentwood, Tennessee was among seven people presumed dead after a small plane crashed into a lake over Memorial Day weekend.

The plane crashed into Percy Priest Lake near Smyrna Saturday morning, and all on board have been identified and are presumed dead. 

FAA officials said a Cessna C501 with seven people on board crashed there around 11 a.m. after departing from the Smyrna Rutherford County Airport.

Family members of those believed to be on the flight have been notified, and with their permission officials have released the names:

  • William J. Lara
  • Gwen S. Lara
  • Jennifer J. Martin
  • David L. Martin
  • Jessica Walters
  • Jonathan Walters
  • Brandon Hannah

All people on board are from Brentwood and all are presumed deceased.

Gwen S. Lara started the Remnant Fellowship Church in 1999 as an extension of her popular book The Weigh Down Diet. More than 100,000 churches across 66 denominations began holding ‘weigh down workshop’ ministries. In November of 2004, the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood opened its doors.

“It’s teaching you how to transfer this relationship with the food – and we’ve got one on this country – to a relationship with God,” Shamblin said in a previous interview.

Since the church began, there have been questions and concerns. Shamblin public denial of the Holy Trinity led churches to drop her program.

Spirit-watch, a website that issued a 50-page report on the church’s teachings concluded by stating the remnant fellowship meets it’s criteria of being a cult. Shamblin and other church members sued Spirit-Watch and an anonymous blogger who had also been critical of the church.

In 2007, a couple who were members of the church was convicted of murdering their eight-year-old son who was beaten and locked in a wooden box. At the time, Shamblin said the pair was innocent.

William Lara, who goes by his middle name “Joe” married Gwen in 2018. He’s an actor best known for the role of Tarzan in the television series “Tarzan: The Epic Adventures.” His work included a “Baywatch” appearance and a key role in a “Gunsmoke” movie.

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