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Story of terminally ill 5-year-old dying in Santa's arms cannot be verified

Posted December 19, 2016

The story of a terminally ill boy dying in the arms of a Santa Claus actor cannot be verified following an investigation into the claims, according to multiple reports.

The Knoxville News Sentinel published the story Sunday of Santa Claus actor Eric Schmitt-Matzen describing the heartbreaking story of a 5-year-old terminally ill child dying in his arms after a brief, but touching conversation. The story quickly went viral and was published to several media outlets around the country, including KSL.com.

The News Sentinel’s Sam Venable, who learned of the story through a “known source,” spoke to Schmitt-Matzen to hear his account. Schmitt-Matzen told the newspaper that “he had promised to protect the identities of the child’s family and the nurse who summoned him to the hospital bedside.”

However, the News Sentinel said Wednesday that after an “additional investigation” to verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account of the story, the newspaper “cannot establish that it is accurate.” They added that they also “cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate.”

“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,” the newspaper said.

Snopes.com, which attempts to fact-check stories, said they contacted several hospitals in the Knoxville area, but that “a visit like the one Schmitt-Matzen described did not occur at their respective facilities.”

“Since Schmitt-Matzen has reiterated his account of the visit, we cannot say with absolute certainty that it didn’t happen — nor do we want to have to say it,” snopes.com said. “But it’s also impossible to say that it did, because of an apparent lack of vetting of his claims by the multiple media outlets that ran with the story without following up on Venable’s initial reporting or finding a second source for the claim.”

Schmitt-Matzen told the News Sentinel, as well as other media outlets, that he was called to the hospital bed of a terminally ill boy at a local hospital. After a brief conversation, Schmitt-Matzen told the boy that he was “Santa’s No. 1 elf” and gave him a hug. The boy died in his arms and Schmitt-Matzen was overcome with emotion and said he “cried all the way home.”

“I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive,” Schmitt-Matzen said.

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