A heartbreaking story about a little boy taking his final breaths in the arms of Father Christmas may not be true.
Eric Schmitt-Matzen, 61, made headlines around the world when he told his local paper of his encounter with an unnamed five-year-old boy in hospital.
He works as a Santa during the festive period and claimed he was called in as an emergency to bring a present to a seriously ill child who then died in his arms.
But questions are now being raised after the Editor of the Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee added a note to their original report saying they had been unable to “independently verify” the account.
The note went on: “Although facts about his background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified.
“The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen’s account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate.”
Mr Schmitt-Matzen, who has been working as a Santa for over a decade, has hit back at the claims insisting his story is true.
But he declined to provide any more details to back it up.
When contacted by Time magazine, he sent a text message reply saying: “I feel like I have been used and then hung out to dry.
“I emphasized from the very beginning that I intended to keep my word and not disclose any information that could lead to the folks’ identity.
“Now I am being made out to be a liar.
“I tried to do a good deed, was talked into telling the story of what happened to me . . . and now the press is ridiculing me for standing my ground.”
In his original telling of the tale, Mr Schmitt-Matzen, a mechanical engineer, said: “The telephone rang. It was a nurse I know who works at the hospital. She said there was a very sick five-year-old boy who wanted to see Santa Claus.”
Within 15 minutes Eric was at the hospital, meeting and talking to the young boy’s mum and family.
“She’d bought a toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him.
“I sized up the situation and told everyone, ‘If you think you’re going to lose it, please leave the room. If I see you crying, I’ll break down and can’t do my job.’”
Eric claimed he entered the room in the Intensive Care Unit alone.
“When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep. I sat down on his bed and asked, ‘Say, what’s this I hear about you’re gonna miss Christmas? There’s no way you can miss Christmas! Why, you’re my Number One elf!
“‘He looked up and said, ‘I am?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’”
After unwrapping his present the boy, posed a heartbreaking question to Eric.
“‘They say I’m gonna die. How can I tell when I get to where I’m going?’
“‘I said, ‘Can you do me a big favor? When you get there, you tell ’em you’re Santa’s Number One elf, and I know they’ll let you in.
“He said, ‘They will?’
“I said, ‘Sure!’
“He kinda sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: ‘Santa, can you help me?’
“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.”
The experience was profoundly affecting for Eric.
“I cried all the way home. I was crying so hard, I had a tough time seeing good enough to drive.”