Terminally ill East Tennessee boy, 5, dies in Santa’s arms

Eric Schmitt-Matzen has been a professional Santa for 9 years. His wife, Sharon, helps him out as Mrs. Claus. (Courtesy: WATE/Facebook)

UPDATE: Newspaper no longer stands by story of boy dying in Santa’s arms. Click here to read more.

CARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Eric Schmitt Matzen’s Facebook page has been flooded with comments from people all over the country.

Schmitt-Matzen, who has been a professional Santa in the Knoxville area for nine years, said he normally walks away with a big smile, but he almost hung up his suit for good after a heart-wrenching experience at a child’s death bed.

He told ABC News he received a call from a friend who was a nurse at an East Tennessee hospital.

“She goes, ‘There’s a little guy that’s about ready to pass and he’s more concerned about missing Christmas than he is about dying,’” said Matzen, remembering that he rushed to the hospital. “I met the parents and relatives down the hall. I said, ‘If anybody feels like they’re going to lose it, please wait in the hall because I’ve got to be happy and jovial. If anybody starts to cry, please do run out the hallway because I can’t do my job.”

The Caryville man said no one managed to follow him into the hospital room. When he got into the room, he said he asked the 5-year-old boy, “What’s this I hear? You think you’re going to miss Christmas?”

Matzen said the boy nodded, so he told him, “No way. The elves had this present made for you a very long time ago.”

After giving the boy the present his parents had prepared for him, Schmitt-Matzen said the boy needed help to unwrap the paper but smiled when he saw the present.

“He laid back and looked up and me and said, ‘They tell me I’m going to die.’ And I said, ‘Can you do me a favor? When you get to the pearly gates, you tell him you’re Santa’s number one elf.’ And he said, ‘I am?’ I said, ‘Sure you are. And they’ll let you right in,’” Schmitt-Matzen said. He said the boy then looked up and him and asked, “Santa can you help me?”

After giving the boy a hug, Schmitt-Matzen said the boy died in his arms. He said tears ran down his face and took time for him to recover from the heartache.

The story has been passed around the world. One of his “brothers in red” said he also broke down in tears after reading the story. Several other people said he was “an angel.”

ABC News contributed to this story.