Editors Note: Since publication, The Knoxville News-Sentinel has attempted to independently verify Eric Schmitt-Matzen's story of bringing a gift to a dying child. Although facts about the Santa Claus actor's background have checked out, his account of events remains unverified, as he has promised to protect the family's identity, and the News-Sentinel cannot establish that it is accurate or inaccurate.
Because the story doesn't meet the newspaper's standards of verafictation, the Knoxville News-Sentinel says it is no longer standing by the veracity of Schmitt-Mazen's account.
A Tennessee Santa Claus says a terminally ill 5-year-old boy died in his arms after he gave the boy a present in the hospital.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, who does about 80 events a year as Santa, was asked a few weeks ago to visit the dying boy, the Knoxville News-Sentinel reports.
Schmitt-Matzen says after giving the boy a toy, the boy asked how he would be able to tell when he got to where he was going after he died. Schmitt-Matzen told him to tell them he was "Santa's Number One elf" and they would let him in.
He says the boy gave him a big hug, asked "Santa, can you help me?" and died in his arms.
“I cried all the way home,” Schmitt-Matzen told USA Today. “I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.
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Schmitt-Matzen says it took him days to recover, but he says he's continuing to play Santa.
“It took me a week or two to stop thinking about it all the time,” he said in an interview with USA Today.
Schmitt-Matzen said the initial call came from a nurse at the hospital. When he arrived, he met with the boy’s mother and family members. The mother had also bought a toy that she wanted him to give the boy when he greeted him as Santa.
He told USA Today the family watched from a hallway window in the hospital’s Intensive Care Unit.
Schmitt-Matzen said it was seeing the other children in the hospital laughing and smiling at his sight that brought him back to be able to play the role of Santa.
"It made me realize the role I have to play," he told USA Today. "For them and for me.”