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A viral story about a Tennessee Santa Claus who comforted a sick young boy as the child died in his arms is starting to look like a big hoax. The heroic Santa said he couldn’t remember when it happened, and he wouldn’t say who was in the hospital room with him. The paper that originally reported the story has now retracted it.
The Knoxville News Sentinel wrote that it can’t prove picture-perfect Santa Claus actor Eric Schmitt-Matten made up the story, but the paper also can’t verify that it’s true.
“Since publication, the News Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen’s account. This has proven unsuccessful,” News Sentinel editor Jack McElroy and columnist Sam Venable wrote.
As Matt Novak at Gizmodo pointed out in a post calling the story “totally fake,” Santa is happy to share all the heartwarming details of the story— the boy’s last words were allegedly “Santa, can you help me?”—but won’t confirm anything that would prove it was true.
It’s understandable that he would want to protect the privacy of the boy and his devastated mother, but Santa also hasn’t said exactly when the incident happened or at which hospital. He wouldn’t give the names of any nurses present, or even the first name of the boy.
The media blog Mediaite also searched for obituaries in the time frame Santa mentioned, and “have so far found no sign of anything close to a five-year-old boy dying.” It’s all very fishy.
Local news station WBIR has claimed it’s confirmed some of the details of the story, but its sources appear to be Schmitt-Matten, his wife, and his friends. The Schmitt-Matten family says the nurse on duty won’t come forward because she fears losing her job. They now also say the death happened in October, a strange time to call in a Santa Claus.
Everyone wants to believe in Santa, but he’s really not making it easy.
Jay Hathaway is a former senior writer who specialized in internet memes and weird online culture. He previously served as the Daily Dot’s news editor, was a staff writer at Gawker, and edited the classic websites Urlesque and Download Squad. His work has also appeared on nymag.com, suicidegirls.com, and the Morning News.