Did This Santa Make Up The Story About A Sick Boy Dying In His Arms?

A Tennessee Santa's story about granting the last wishes of a terminally ill boy who then died in his arms is being called into question.

The Knoxville News Sentinel, which originally published the now-viral interview with Santa look-alike Eric Schmitt-Matzen, issued an editor's note on Wednesday saying that it "cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate."

"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."

According to the update, Schmitt-Matzen said "he had promised to protect the identities of the child’s family and the nurse who summoned him to the hospital bedside." The story was originally brought to the paper by someone besides the subject, it said.

The following story was published on December 12, 2106.

A terminally ill 5-year-old had the chance to ask a Tennessee Santa Claus for one last Christmas wish last month, moments before he died in the man's arms.

Eric Schmitt-Matzen, a 60-year-old Saint Nick look-alike who does dozens of events annually, said he was called to a hospital by a nurse who told him there was "a very sick 5-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus," according to a report in the Knoxville News Sentinel.

When he arrived, Schmitt-Matzen said he found the boy "laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep." He gave him a special Paw Patrol toy provided by the family as they settled in for a special chat.

The boy asked him for help knowing what to do when he died, to which Schmitt-Matzen responded: "When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s No. 1 elf, and I know they’ll let you in." After a brief exchange and a hug, he said the boy asked, "Santa, can you help me?"

"I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding onto him," Schmitt-Matzen recalled. "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."

Schmitt-Matzen left the hospital in tears. And given how deeply it affected him, he wondered if he "might crack up and never be able to play the part again."

But after a recent job, he said he decided to continue his work to bring joy into children's lives, no matter the emotional toll.

"When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold," he said. "It made me realize the role I have to play — for them and for me."

Schmitt-Matzen recounts the heartbreaking exchange in the video below. Just make sure you have a box of tissues handy before you press play.

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