In a sentimental story published by the Knoxville News Sentinel, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer who has played Santa Claus for nine years, said that he dressed up as Christmas character to visit a terminally ill child in the hospital, and that the 5-year-old boy died in his arms. (The above video relates Schmitt-Matzen’s story.) However, the newspaper said Wednesday that it could not verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account.
“Since publication, the News Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account. This has proven unsuccessful,” wrote the paper’s editor Jack McElroy in a follow-up story. “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.”
Hospitals near Schmitt-Matzen’s home said they had no record of the events described in the story or in his additional interviews. Schmitt-Matzen has maintained that his account is true, but has so far declined to provide corroborating details of it.
“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 said. “It’s sticks and stones.”
The story was republished by USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News and The Washington Post, none of which raised any doubts about it.