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Was the Story About a 5-Year-Old Boy Who Died in Santa’s Arms a Hoax?

The story of a 5-year-old child who reportedly died in the arms of Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a local Santa Claus actor from Tennessee, may have been be a hoax.

Days after the tear-jerking tale went viral, the Knoxville News Sentinel — the outlet that first broke the story — issued a statement on Wednesday, December 14, retracting their confidence in Schmitt-Matzen’s account after being unable to verify details or identify the boy.

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“Schmitt-Matzen had not approached the News Sentinel originally with the story. The information came to the newspaper indirectly through a known source, and Schmitt-Matzen was then contacted and asked about the incident,” read the newspaper’s statement, cosigned by editor Jack McElroy and columnist Sam Venable, who wrote the initial story. “At the time of that initial interview, he said he had promised to protect the identities of the child’s family and the nurse who summoned him to the hospital bedside. In follow-up interviews, he has continued to hold this position and stand by his account.”

The editors added: “Since publication, the News Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account. This has proven unsuccessful. Although facts about his background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified. The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate. Therefore, because the story does not meet the newspaper’s standards of verification, we are no longer standing by the veracity of Schmitt-Matzen’s account.”

Eric Schmitt-Matzen
Eric Schmitt-Matzen

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As previously reported, Schmitt-Matzen claimed that he received an urgent call to fulfill a dying boy’s last wish to meet Father Christmas. After his emotional story gained traction, the Nashville-based 60-year-old gave a string of local and national television appearances, often tearfully repeating the anecdote word for word.

Schmitt-Matzen claimed that he received an urgent call from a nurse at a Tennessee hospital weeks ago. “She said there was a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus,” he told the Knoxville News Sentinel, adding that he rushed to the medical center’s intensive care unit without even dressing up in his Santa costume.

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Fifteen minutes later, he arrived at the hospital, where he said the young boy’s mother told him to walk in her son’s room to give him a toy from the TV show PAW Patrol. “[She] wanted me to give it to him,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “I sized up the situation and told everyone, ‘If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.’”

Schmitt-Matzen claims that after opening his gift, the young boy gave Schmitt-Matzen a big hug before taking his final breaths and then dying in Schmitt-Matzen’s arms. “I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him,” Schmitt-Matzen told the Sentinel. “Everyone outside the room realized what happened. His mother ran in. She was screaming, ‘No, no, not yet!’ I handed her son back and left as fast as I could.”

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