Atlanta police are investigating whether the teachings of diet guru and Remnant Fellowship founder Gwen Shamblin may have played a role in the death of an eight-year-old Georgia boy.

Police arrested the boy's parents, Joseph and Sonya Smith, last December and charged them with felony murder, cruelty to a child, and deprivation of a minor. Their son, Josef, died October 9, 2003.

The Smiths are members of a Remnant chapter in the Atlanta area. Shamblin said she and other Remnant members support the Smiths' stance that Josef died accidentally after hitting his head on a banister.

Hal Bennett, an investigator with the Cobb County medical examiner's office, told Christianity Today that Josef died from acute and chronic abuse.

A former Remnant member provided CT with a copy of a recorded church conference call from February 2003. In it, Sonya Smith informed Shamblin that she had locked her unruly son in his room from Friday to Monday. Afterward, he began to behave respectfully, Sonya Smith said.

"That's a miracle," Shamblin responded. "You've got a child going from bizarre to in control. So praise God."

Investigators in Atlanta have obtained more than one tape, said police Lt. Paula Sparks. On a second tape, Shamblin praises a Remnant leader for repeatedly spanking his strong-willed two-year-old daughter. "It was a one-night showdown, and that child never forgot it," Shamblin said.

Shamblin, creator of the Weigh Down Workshop diet and author of related books, lost followers and her publisher in 2000 after publicly rejecting the doctrine of the Trinity. Then she founded Remnant.

Based in Nashville, the movement now has 130 sites throughout the United States, Canada, and the Bahamas. It is adding an estimated one to three fellowships per ...

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