Weigh Down Crackdown

Faith-based weight loss headquarters raided for possible role in boy's death

Review Appeal/May 19, 2004

By Melissa N. Warren

Law enforcement officers descended on Franklin's Weigh Down Workshop on Wednesday, reportedly as part of a continuing investigation into the role the teachings of an affiliated church played in the death of a Georgia boy.

Joseph Smith, 44, and Sonya Smith, 36, were charged in December with felony murder, cruelty to a child and contributing to the deprivation of a minor in the death of their 8-year-old son, Josef Mykel Smith, who died Oct. 9, 2003.

Witnesses reported police arrived before lunch and at press time, all seven members of the Franklin Police's detective division, Chief Jackie Moore, Deputy Chief Al Segal and Lt. Mike Jordan were on the scene.

'We are assisting Cobb County (Ga.) with their ongoing investigation,' Segal said. 'We also are serving two search warrants on a separate investigation.'

Cobb County Detective David Schweizer of the Crimes Against Children Division said he is indeed 'actively searching the building for a link to the death of an 8-year-old.'

'We already have a link,' Schweizer said. 'His family is part of the Weigh Down Workshop.' He had warrants for both the Weigh Down Workshop and Remnant Fellowship offices. Schweizer has been in Franklin for three days.

'I am just trying to tie my case into a nice, little, neat knot. This is the final phase of my investigation of this case,' he said.

According to a December 2003 story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the 8-year-old 'was beaten so severely that his brain swelled and bruises covered much of his body, police said. Police said his parents sometimes locked the boy in a closet and made him pray to a picture of Jesus.'

Josef's death came just months after the July 25, 2003, death of his 17-month-old brother, Milek, the Journal-Constitution reported, saying his death was contributed to pneumonia although an investigation is ongoing.

The Journal-Constitution reported a 14-year-old relative of Josef Smith who described the child as being 'demon possessed,' a statement with which the parents agreed. A report by the Department of Family and Children's Services (DFCS) reported the Smiths belonged to Remnant Fellowship International, which currently operates out of Weigh Down Workshop on Seaboard Lane in Cool Springs. A new church is under construction on Franklin Road in Brentwood.

The nondenominational church and Weigh Down Workshop were both founded by Gwen Shamblin, whose book, 'The Weigh Down Diet,' has sold millions of copies.

Following Josef's death, during an interview with DFCS workers, the boy's father told them the family had been watching a webcast of Remnant's religious services when the boy began a tantrum, the Journal-Constitution reported.

That same day, according to the newspaper, Joseph Smith told authorities 'he disciplined Josef by hitting him with a 2- or 3-foot-long, whip-like glue stick. Police say the parents used the stick to beat the boy, and that sometimes an older boy was ordered to hold Josef while he was beaten.'

The day of his death, his mother said Josef had gotten 'several whippings,' which normally came in increments of 10, according to the Journal-Constitution story.

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