A story alleging that a sick young boy died in the arms of a Santa Claus at a Tennessee hospital has been called into question by the newspaper that first reported it.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, who has been playing the part of Santa for six years, said Dec. 11 that the terminally ill child died in his arms, the Knoxville News Sentinel reported.
But after carrying out further investigations to determine the truth of Schmitt-Matzen’s version of events, the newspaper was unable to confirm the story. It stated it was no longer standing by Schmitt-Matzen’s story.
Schmitt-Matzen originally said he was called to the hospital bed of the anonymous boy in November.
“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 told the Daily Mail.
Schmitt-Matzen says he gave the boy a toy.
“He was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep,” he said.
He then tried to talk to the boy.
“I sat down on his bed and asked, 'Say, what's this I hear about you're gonna miss Christmas? There's no way you can miss Christmas’” he said.
“They say I'm gonna die,” the boy allegedly responded. “How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?”
“When you get there, you tell them you're Santa's No. 1 elf, and I know they'll let you in,” answered Schmitt-Matzen.
Schmitt-Matzen alleged that was when the boy died.
“I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there,” he said.
He said the boy’s mother came rushing into the room when she realized what had happened.
“I spent four years in the Army with the 75th Rangers, and I've seen my share of [stuff]. But I ran by the nurses' station bawling my head off,” he said.
Schmitt-Matzen went on to say that he considered giving up playing Santa, but after several days he decided to continue in the role.
The Daily Mail's reporters spoke to or visited five hospitals in the eastern Tennessee area and none backed up Schmitt-Matzen’s story.
“I am aware of the story but this did not happen at our hospital,” said Erica Estep, public relations manager at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
Schmitt-Matzen appeared to be taken aback by the media reaction, which has included reports by national networks.
“This has gotten so blown out of proportion,” he said.