Last week the story of a terminally ill 5-year-old boy who died in the arms of a man he thought was Santa made the entire Internet weep big, ugly tears. It was a heartbreaking, tragic story, but now it’s looking like this might be a hoax, and Crying Santa may have made the whole thing up.
The interview with Eric Schmitt-Matzen, the Santa who says a terminally ill 5-year-old boy died in his arms about a month and a half ago, originally appeared in the Knoxville News Sentinel along with a video of Schmitt-Matzen telling the story in his own words. It’s a moving video. Schmitt-Matzen looks visibly distraught, and like he’s having a hard time describing the traumatic event he experienced. But yesterday the Knoxville News Sentinel added an update to the story saying that they had been unable to verify that the story actually happened.
The News Sentinel says it had been given the lead on the story of a little boy dying in Santa’s arms by a source known to the paper, and from there they contacted Schmitt-Matzen to ask for a interview. Schmitt-Matzen told the story, and it appeared in the paper. After that it went viral and was picked up by everybody, including the Washington Post, the BBC, CNN, USA Today, People, and Mommyish, too.
Since the story became so big, more efforts were made to confirm it, and while Schmitt-Matzen has stood by his assertion that he will not give the names of the family or of the nurse who he says called him to the little boy’s bedside, he has also not given the name of the hospital where the event took place, and nobody else can find it, either.
Snopes has the story listed as “Unproven” on its website, and says that while Schmitt-Matzen originally said he made it to the hospital in 15 minutes, he now says the hospital was in East Tennessee. Snopes and the Washington Post checked with several hospitals and healthcare groups in the area, and all said that nothing of the sort had happened at their hospitals.
There’s no official confirmation that Schmitt-Matzen’s story is not true, but there’s also no way to prove that it is true, and the News Sentinel has published a statement that they’re no longer standing by the story.
“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,” they said.
The weird thing about this, if it’s a hoax, is how small the stakes were. Crying Santa doesn’t have a Go Fund Me to fill, or a line of suspenders to sell or anything. What on Earth does he get out of spreading this story? He didn’t know it would go viral and become national news when he told it. The original interview was just for a column in the Knoxville News Sentinel.
Schmitt-Matzen is a married, 60-year-old man with a bunch of grandchildren, and he works as Santa in his off-time. What on Earth did he have to gain by being the face of a tear-jerker Christmas column in the local paper?
The story might still be true, and Schmitt-Matzen is sticking by his story and saying it is true, but it’s looking like a hoax because nobody can find a Tennessee hospital that will verify that this story happened. A lot of people are probably hoping it is a hoax, because that’s better than having to deal with the story of a real little boy dying in the arms of a strange man he thought was Santa.