Did you see that story about a five-year-old boy and his dying wish to see Santa Claus? Of course you did. The heartbreaking tale has been seen and heard by millions of people around the world. It went viral earlier this week when it was retold by virtually every major news outlet. The only problem? It's almost certainly fake.
As the story goes, an unnamed five-year-old boy was dying in the hospital and had just one last wish: He wanted to see Santa Claus. The nurse called up a professional Santa she knew, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, who rushed to the hospital. The boy and Santa had a chat about Heaven before the boy literally died in Santa's arms. But the small Tennessee newspaper that originally published the story, the Knoxville News Sentinel, just retracted it.
"Since publication, the News Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen's account. This has proven unsuccessful," the newspaper explains.
"They say I'm gonna die," the young boy allegedly told Santa in the story that has since circulated far and wide. "How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?"
"When you get there, you tell 'em you're Santa's Number One elf, and I know they will let you in," Santa replied.
The last words of the boy, according to Santa/Schmitt-Matzen were, "Santa, can you help me?" The boy supposedly died right there in Santa's arms and the boy's mother rushed into the room, crying hysterically.
"No, no, not yet!" she supposedly screamed as Santa handed her dead son to her. Strangely, Schmitt-Matzen said that he left as fast as he could.
Schmitt-Matzen, a 60-year-old professional Santa who looks "straight out of Central Casting", has told multiple news organisations that he's simply trying to protect the identity of the family involved. But it isn't just the name of the boy that we don't know. Santa won't give anyone the name of the hospital, the name of the nurse who summoned him or even a precise date for when it occurred. Schmitt-Matzen says it was "about a month ago".
Many people have started to poke holes in the story, noting that it seems quite unlikely that a child who was dying could have a coherent conversation with another person and then die moments later. Multiple independent news outlets, including the Associated Press have tried to confirm the story and have come up completely empty-handed.
"The News-Sentinel report didn't include details on the boy or the hospital," the Associated Press noted in their short retelling of the story. "Schmitt-Matzen didn't immediately respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press."
Later, CNN called every hospital in the area and couldn't find anyone to corroborate the story. The website Mediaite has even been scouring the obituaries in the area looking for "anything close to a 5-year-old boy dying" and have found nothing. Even Schmitt-Matzen's wife seems to have been conveniently not home around the time that the sad story happened -- which, again occurred on a date that Schmitt-Matzen can't seem to remember precisely.
Unfortunately, every piece of evidence points to this heart-wrenching story simply being fake. As my wife said when I told her that the story is probably a hoax: "2016 was the year that the whole world learned that Santa wasn't real."