KNOXVILLE, TN (RNN) – The newspaper that published the tale of a Santa Claus actor visiting a terminally ill child in his last moments has backed away from the story’s claims. Jack McElroy, editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel, said Wednesday that Eric Schmitt-Matzen’s account remains unverified. The newspaper published the original story Sunday.
“The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate,” stated McElroy and original writer Sam Venable.
Schmitt-Matzen said he was contacted by a nurse at a hospital about a boy who was near death, per Venable’s story. He said he arrived, met with the boy’s family and then briefly spoke to the boy alone, giving him a present and telling the boy he was Santa’s No. 1 elf. He said the boy gave him a hug and died in his arms.
The story went viral online, and Schmitt-Matzen has retold it on CNN and other national news outlets. The News Sentinel said they discovered the story through a “known source” and reached out to Schmitt-Matzen, who stands by his account. Additional investigation by the newspaper has failed to find someone to back up the details he provided. “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,” said McElroy and Venable.