Was the story of the terminally ill child dying in Santa's arms fake?

Earlier this week, the story of a terminally ill child dying in Santa's arms circulated the Internet. The Santa impersonator, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, was hailed as a hero for aiding a boy in his final moments.

Now, however, there is doubt over the story's validity. The source the story originally appeared and interviewed Schmitt-Matzen, Knoxville News Sentinel, retracted the story -- and said it could not be verified.

The Sentinel staff said that Schmitt-Matzen did not come to the paper with the story. "The information came to the newspaper indirectly through a known source, and Schmitt-Matzen was then contacted and asked about the incident," the staff said in a statement.

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Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen as Santa
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Eric J. Schmitt-Matzen as Santa
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Schmitt-Matzen had told the Sentinel that he promised to protect the identities of the boy and those involved. "In follow-up interviews, he has continued to hold this position and stand by his account," staff said.

The paper, however, had done a further investigation and could not verify the story. "The News Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzen's account is inaccurate," they said, "but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate."

Schmitt-Matzen spoke to TIME to back-up the story. He said that not only is the story true, but he feels betrayed by the Sentinel's statement.

"I feel like I have been used and then hung out to dry," he told TIME in a text message. "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, though, people are calling him a liar. "I tried to do a good deed," he said, "was talked into telling the story of what happened to me ... and now the press is ridiculing me for standing my ground."

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