A plane crash in Tennessee over the weekend killed seven church leaders of The Remnant Fellowship, including bestselling Christian author Gwen Shamblin Lara and her husband, Joe Lara, an actor known for his role in the “Tarzan” television series.
The Remnant Fellowship, an international church community founded in 1999 and based in Brentwood, announced seven of its leaders died in the May 29 plane crash in Percy Priest Lake and called for prayers. The victims were heralded as "some of the finest and most loving people that you would ever come across."
Gwen Shamblin Lara was the founder of Remnant Fellowship Church and Weigh Down Ministries, a ministry to help people turn to God instead of unwanted behaviors and emotions. Lara was a registered dietician and author known for a Christian approach to dieting.
The Lara couple married in 2018 and between the two of them shared three children and eight grandchildren, according to Lara’s website.
David and Jennifer Martin, Jonathan and Jessica Walters and Brandon Hannah were among the other members of the church’s leadership team who perished in the plane crash.
Hannah is Gwen Lara’s son-in-law and married her daughter, Elizabeth, in 2003. The couple had four children.
The small jet, a Cessna Citation 501 airplane, was headed to Palm Beach International Airport in Florida. The aircraft left from Smyrna Airport in Rutherford County, near Nashville, when it crashed into Percy Priest Lake around 11 a.m. on Saturday, according to ABC News.
The cause of the crash is not immediately known.
Rutherford County rescue crews remained at the scene late Saturday and worked throughout the night, Rutherford County Fire Rescue Capt. Joshua Sanders said at a news conference, The Associated Press reported.
Sanders indicated that the efforts had transitioned from a rescue effort to a recovery effort and said they were “no longer … looking for live victims.”
The church’s statement thanked the first responders, commended the lives of the crash victims and promised the congregation would take care of the children.
“We want everyone who was affected, especially the children of the passengers, to know that they are very loved and our church will be taking special care of the children’s needs in these coming years,” the statement reads.
The church also assured that Lara’s work and ministry would continue after her death.
“Finally, as far as Remnant Fellowship Church and Weigh Down Ministries are concerned, Michael Shamblin and Elizabeth Shamblin Hannah, Gwen’s two children, and the church leadership intend to continue the dream that Gwen Shamblin Lara had of helping people find a relationship with God,” the church’s statement continued.
The Laras are believed to have owned the plane and the records show it was associated with JL&GL PRODUCTIONS LP, which is associated with Joe and Gwen Lara, WKRN reported.
Joe Lara was also a pilot and had been licensed to fly since age 16. But according to the Federal Aviation Administration database, no one on the flight was qualified to fly the plane. The Nashville Tennesseean reports that Joe Lara had a pilot's license but has not updated his medical certification since 2017.
Additionally, Brandon Hannah also had a pilot license but did not have certification to fly Cessna 500 series planes.
The newspaper further reports that a recording of the communication between the plane and control tower shows that an alarm went off in the cockpit seconds before the plane crashed, suggesting a mechanical failure.
The Remnant Fellowship is said to have over 1,500 members and 150 congregations worldwide. It has been accused by some in the media of being similar to a cult since its focus is on Lara's Bible-based teachings on weight loss and addiction.
According to The Tennessean, Lara's book The Weigh Down Diet sold over 1 million copies and thousands of churches nationwide used her books and videos as guides.
As the creator of the Weigh Down Diet movement, Lara encouraged people to strengthen their faith in God to lose weight.
The program's website describes itself as a "Bible-based series of positive educational and motivational seminars that teach you how to actually desire less food and eat less food."
Lara has also faced criticism in the past for insensitive comments she has made about thin Jews in concentration camps.
In a statement released by the county government, Elizabeth Hannah, Brandon's wife and Gwen's daughter, stressed that her mother was the "kindest, most gentle, selfless, loving mother and best friend to me and my brother."
"Her actions and words changed thousands of lives for the better — and her message of 'Loving GOD with ALL your heart' — will live on forever and ever — and continue to change lives for all eternity."
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com