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

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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 Shamblin Lara founded the Remnant Fellowship Church in Brentwood in 1999 and wrote a faith-based weight loss book. Her husband of nearly three years, known as Joe Lara, was an actor featured in the TV series “Tarzan: The Epic Adventures.” His work also included a “Baywatch” appearance and a key role in a “Gunsmoke” movie.

“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,” Lara said in a previous interview.

Since the church began, there have been questions and concerns. Lara’s 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 its criteria of being a cult. Lara 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, Lara said the pair was innocent.

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