Tarzan actor Joe Lara, his Christian diet guru wife Gwen Shamblin Lara and five other members of their controversial Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee may have been en route to a Florida MAGA rally when their small plane crashed and killed them all.
The seven people on board were killed when the Cessna C501, which is registered to Joe and Gwen, crashed into a a lake in Smyrna, 25 miles southeast of Nashville, shortly after take-off on Saturday morning.
The Remnant Fellowship Church on Sunday night confirmed the deaths of Joe and Gwen Lara; Gwen’s son-in-law Brandon Hannah; and church leaders David and Jennifer Martin and Jonathan and Jessica Walters.
Rescue workers are in the process of retrieving human remains and parts of the plane wreckage found so far at the Percy Priest Lake crash site.
Authorities say the plane was bound for Palm Beach International Airport.
Tarzan actor Joe Lara, his Christian diet guru wife Gwen Shamblin Lara (above) and five other members of the controversial Remnant Fellowship Church in Tennessee killed when their plane crashed on Saturday
Kimberly Fletcher, a Trump supporter who was scheduled to speak at a MAGA rally near Palm Beach on Sunday, has since revealed that one of the event’s sponsors was on board the plane when it crashed
Kimberly Fletcher, a Trump supporter who was scheduled to speak at a MAGA rally near Palm Beach on Sunday, has since revealed that one of the event’s sponsors was on board the plane when it crashed.
‘I am heartbroken. I am in Florida at for an event I’m speaking at tomorrow. One of the sponsors was flying in on a private plane with some friends,’ Fletcher wrote in a Facebook post with a link to a news article about the plane crash.
Fletcher did not specify which of the seven people on board was the person who helped sponsor the ‘We The People: Patriot’s Day’ rally (pictured is an advertisement for the event). It was not clear if all seven people on board the plane were attending the rally
‘The plane went down and and it looks there are no survivors. Please pray for them, their families and the church members where they pastor.’
Fletcher did not specify which of the seven people on board was the person who helped sponsor the ‘We The People: Patriot’s Day’ rally.
It was not clear if all seven people on board were attending the rally.
According to Federal Election Commission data, Gwen Shamblin Lara last year donated at least $3,000 to the Trump Make America Great Again Committee and the Trump 2020 campaign.
The rally, which was held at the Martin County Fairgrounds, included speeches from Trump ally Roger Stone, according to an advertisement for the event.
Rutherford County Fire and Rescue Captain John Ingle said recovery operations were ongoing at the lake and would continue throughout Monday.
‘The debris field is approximately a half of a mile wide,’ he said.
The Cessna C501 had left Smyrna Rutherford County Airport before it slammed into the water at 10.53am on Saturday shortly after take-off, officials said.
The plane was bound for Palm Beach International Airport and it was not immediately clear who was piloting it.
The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating that crash.
The plane is registered to the Laras. Joe Lara played Tarzan in the 1989 film Tarzan in Manhattan and short-lived 1990s’ TV series Tarzan: The Epic Adventures – through their company JL&GL Productions LP.
The plane, built in 1982, is a fixed-wing plane with two engines and eight seats, according to the website Flight Aware.
Dive crews at Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna, Tennessee on Sunday found human remains and parts of the plane that crashed there the previous morning, killing Christian diet guru Gwen Shamblin, her husband Joe Lara and five other members of the Remnant Fellowship Church
Authorities continued to search the crash site at Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna, Tennessee late into Sunday
The Federal Aviation Administration told WTVF that the plane left from the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport just before it wrecked. It was reportedly bound for Palm Beach International Airport
This flight-tracker shows the route the plane took before crashing shortly after taking off from Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport
In a statement late Sunday, the church confirmed the deaths of the seven members.
‘The seven Remnant Fellowship leaders lost May 29, 2021 were some of the finest and most loving people that you would ever come across. During this horrible tragedy, our church would greatly appreciate prayers,’ the statement read.
‘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.’
Gwen is survived by her two adult children from a prior marriage – Elizabeth Hannah and Michael Shamblin.
Elizabeth Hannah sent out an internal text to families of their church telling them the plane ‘had to go down for a controlled, quick landing,’ WTVF reports.
She wrote in her plea for prayers to the church’s parishioners that: ‘My brother and I are asking for immediate prayers right now.’
‘We have just gotten word that Gwen and Joe Lara’s plane had to go down for a controlled, quick landing,’ she wrote.
‘More information to come, but be in prayer – and be at peace. GOD IS IN CONTROL, and we will not stop moving forward with WHAT GOD WANTS with this church.’
She added that on behalf of herself and her brother, Michael Shamblin, that they ‘love this church and need the prayers of the righteous on this one.
Gwen Shamblin Lara and husband Joe Lara are pictured on the left. Gwen’s daughter, Elizabeth Hannah was not on the plane but Hannah’s husband Brandon Hannah was (both pictured on right
Pictured: Jonathan Walters and his wife Jessica Walters (left) and David Martin and his wife Jennifer Martin (right)
Rutherford County Fire & Rescue officials reported that a full investigation into the crash could take up to two years
Emergency responders are pictured at Percy Priest Lake in Smyrna as they search for survivors of the wreck
Gwen, who founded the church in 1999, is the author of the nationally bestselling book The Weigh Down Diet, a diet based in Christian practices.
Her website describes her as the ‘pioneer of faith-based weight loss.’
‘Gwen Shamblin Lara was one of the world’s most kind, gentle, and selfless mother and wife, and a loyal, caring, supportive best friend to all,’ the church said. ‘She lived every day laying down her own life to ensure that others could find a relationship with God.’
Lara, an avid blog writer, had published a post to her website on Saturday – before the flight took off – in which she said: ‘God does not want us to worry about the food’s content.’
The blog post included two verses from the Bible: Mark 7:14-23 and Ephesians 5:3-5.
‘So Jesus taught us that it is not the food that defiles us, but rather the attitudes and thoughts that we have in our hearts and in our minds that will corrupt and destroy us. It is the greed in our hearts that leads to overeating and overdrinking,’ she wrote.
Gwen’s son Michael Shamblin has four children with his wife, Erin, and helps lead worship at the Remnant Fellowship Church.
Her daughter Elizabeth and her husband Brandon, who was among those killed, oversee and direct the church’s youth group. The couple married in 2003 and have four children.
David and Jennifer Martin, two of the passengers on the plane, have been members of the Remnant Fellowship Church since Gwen founded it in 1999. The couple have been married since 1992 and have five children.
Jonathan and Jessica Walters met as original members of the church in 2000 and were later married at the church in 2002. They have three children together.
The Remnant Fellowship: A church of ‘hope’ for some and a ‘cult’ for others
In 2002, Christian diet guru Gwen Shamblin Lara bought 40 acres of land in Brentwood, Tennessee, and donated the entire property for the building of the Remnant Fellowship Church.
The Remnant Fellowship Church opened its doors in November of 2004 and the entire Weigh Down organization was donated to the church in 2006.
The church bases its ministry on the Bible-based teachings of Gwen Shamblin through Weigh Down Ministries, according to the church’s website.
Remnant remains based in Brentwood but its services are webcast out to over 100 Remnant Fellowship locations worldwide, according to the church.
The church’s global leadership includes a team team consisting of ‘120 shepherds, deacons, ministry leaders, and ministry assistants.
‘Any decisions made on behalf of the church are made through the leadership team with much prayer and discussion. Many of the day-to-day operations are handled through the various ministry teams,’ the church’s website reads.
The church is known for helping people through problems such as alcohol and drug addiction and markets itself to people ‘weary of the constant battles in today’s world.’
‘Rising crime, financial problems, broken homes, alcohol and drug abuse, rebellious children, disappearing morality – it seems like the world is growing further and further away from God and Christ, and the results are obvious,’ the church’s website reads.
The church notes that it is ‘not a man-made doctrine or dogma about sacraments or rituals.’
Its ‘assemblies’ take place on Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings and usually run between 90 minutes and two hours long with music provided by a chamber orchestra, choirs and a praise band.
People who support the church have praised it for helping them through the ‘hopelessness’ in their lives.
‘This is a church of change changing from increasing hopelessness of the world to a high calling that is filled with more and more hope and blessings from God!!’ a woman named Sherri Johnson wrote in a Facebook review.
Another woman named Cora Elizabeth Palmer wrote: ‘Most peaceful place on Earth. Very thankful to get to be a part of such an awesome church!’
However, the church has also faced criticism and characterizations as a ‘cult.’
Former members Adam and Maria Brooks wrote in 2002 that they were ‘blindly caught up in Mrs. Shamblin’s call for faithful followers to leave their churches’ and claimed that she would recruit members of her church from her Weigh Down events.
‘As a result, in the summer of 2001 we left our church for a brief period and nearly joined Remnant Fellowship,’ the couple wrote.
‘For us, that experience gave us a traumatic taste of what it is like to be recruited into a cult and to experience ‘cultic mind control.’
The church also faced criticism in 2007 after two members Joseph and Sonya Smith were convicted of beating their 8-year-old son to death, NBC News reported. The church was reported to have stood by the couple amid their conviction and even paid for their legal appeals.