Heartbreaking Santa Story May Have Been a Hoax

Professional Santa claimed 5-year-old boy died in his arms
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 12, 2016 1:51 PM CST
Updated Dec 14, 2016 5:31 PM CST
How Santa Made a Dying Child's Christmas
A different Santa Claus.   (AP Photo/The Dallas Morning News, Rose Baca)

A heartbreaking story about a professional Santa Claus who comforted a terminally ill 5-year-old boy as the child died in his arms may not be true. Eric Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News-Sentinel he had been called to a hospital because the dying boy wanted to meet Santa Claus, and that before the boy died Schmitt-Matzen gave him a gift (provided to Schmitt-Matzen by the boy's mother) and told him he was his No. 1 elf. Schmitt-Matzen said that as he held the boy after he'd drawn his last breath, the boy's mother ran in crying; she'd supposedly left the room because Schmitt-Matzen said he couldn't do his job if anyone else in the room broke down. Now the News-Sentinel, which published the story Sunday, says it can't verify the story and thus is no longer standing by the account.

The newspaper says the story came to them indirectly, through a known source, and they contacted Schmitt-Matzen to get his version of events. Additional investigation revealed that it may not have actually happened. Snopes and the Washington Post also contacted area hospitals, all of which denied that Schmitt-Matzen's story had taken place there. (No outlet has so far actually disproven Schmitt-Matzen's story.) Schmitt-Matzen's response to the Post: "If some people want to call me a liar ... I can handle that better than I can handle a child in my arms dying. It’s sticks and stones." In addition to multiple news outlets (including Newser) picking up the story, Schmitt-Matzen did quite a few TV interviews, which Jezebel rounds up, noting, "Whether it’s true or not, it’s certainly remarkable how many interviews he crammed into three days." (Read more Santa Claus stories.)

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