Questions over US Santa's viral story about ill boy

  • 15/12/2016
Eric Schmitt-Matzen dressed as santa (File)
Eric Schmitt-Matzen dressed as santa (File)

It was the story that appeared to be the best Christmas wish one could hope for. But with many things it life, it also may be too good to be true. 

This week Newshub published the story of a terminally ill child in the US has died in the arms of Santa Claus, who granted the child his final wish.

However the Knoxville News Sentinel, where the story orignated, said they could not verify a columnist's account from the Santa impersonator.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen from Tennessee, says he was called by a nurse to ask if he could visit the dying five-year-old boy at his hospital bedside.

The story quickly went viral and he appeared on several news channels on the US. 

In the initial interview with the Sentinel, Mr Schmitt-Matzen he said he had promised to protect the identities of the child's family and the nurse who summoned him to the hospital bedside.

"I sat down on his bed and asked, 'Say, what's this I hear about you're going to miss Christmas? There's no way you can miss Christmas - you're my number one elf!'," he told the paper.

The story was published and no further questions were asked. 

That was until the News Sentinel further investigated the story to independently verify the touching holiday story. 

In an editorial article published on Thursday, editor Jack McElroy wrote: "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."

Mr Schmitt-Martin gave the paper a detailed interview of the emotional conversation. 

"I cried all the way home," he said. "I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.

"My wife and I were scheduled to visit our grandchildren in Nashville the next day, but I told her to go by herself. I was a basket case for three days. It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time. Actually, I thought I might crack up and never be able to play the part again."

In a further twist, efforts were made to contact hospitals in the area and staff there said they had no record of the events described in the story. 

"We know for certain that it did not happen at our hospital," Erica Estep, public relations manager at East Tennessee Children's Hospital told the Washington Post.

She said the hospital checked its mortality data for the entirety of 2016 and had no records of a five-year-old child dying under any circumstances.

Jerry Askew, a spokesman for Tennova Healthcare, a network of local hospitals, replied to an inquiry by saying: "If you're calling about the Santa story, I'm sorry, but it didn't happen at our hospitals. We've received calls from all over the world, but Santa didn't happen here."

Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer who heads his own manufacturing company, was unfazed by skepticism about his tale.

"If some people want to call me a liar . . . I can handle that better than I can handle a child in my arms dying," he told the Washington Post. 

"It's sticks and stones."