A heartbreaking story went viral this week on media all over the world that has since proven to be unverified. Sam Venable, author and humorist, originated a story in the Knoxville News-Sentinel
that recounted the story of Eric Schmitt-Matzen and the last wish of a child dying in a hospital. The 60-year-old Schmitt-Matzen is reportedly a professionally trained Santa Claus. According to the account, Schmitt-Matzen received a call from a nurse he knew at a local hospital. The nurse told him that a 5-year-old boy at the hospital had asked to see Santa Claus. Noting that the boy was quite sick, the nurse asked Schmitt-Matzen to come to the hospital immediately.
At the hospital, the boy’s mother gave over her child to Schmitt-Matzen. The boy told him that he was terminally ill. Attempting to comfort the boy, Schmitt-Matzen told him, “When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in,” according to the News-Sentinel column.
The boy hugged Schmitt-Matzen, but then expired. Schmitt-Matzen told Venable in the account, “I wrapped my arms around him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him. 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. 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. I know nurses and doctors see things like that every day, but I don’t know how they can take it.”
Once the story went viral, the News-Sentinel
was not able to verify key facts of the story, including the name of the boy or the nurse and the location of the hospital because Schmitt-Matzen refused to provide the information. The newspaper said that the story was not given to them by Schmitt-Matzen, but was given by a “known source.” Dozens of media outlets, including the Washington Post
and TIME Magazine, repeated the story. However, Spero News did not repeat it. Schmitt-Matzen linked a story about himself at USA Today
on his Facebook
“At the time of that initial interview, he said he had promised to protect the identities of the child’s family and the nurse who summoned him to the hospital bedside,” and editorial at the newspaper read. “In follow-up interviews, he has continued to hold this position and stand by his account.” The paper has been unable to verify the story through a second source. “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,” the editorial read.
Snopes.com reported that University of Tennessee Medical Center said the incident did not occur at its facilities. Other media reported that at least one other hospital said the incident did not happen there.
While the story noted that there were other “witnesses” to the incident, none were cited in the article.
The article described Schmitt-Matzen as a mechanical engineer and president of Packing Seals & Engineering in Jacksboro, Kentucky, and an Army veteran. On his eponymous website
, writer Sam Venable says that he has worked for the News-Sentinel since 1985, first as an outdoor editor and then as a columnist.
Among the news outlets that repeated the story are:
Huffington Post Canada
Columbia Daily Journal
International Business Times (UK)
New York Daily News
The Week (UK)
The Knoxville News-Sentinel
The Indian Express
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