Fact check: Social media users confuse Shriners Hospitals’ Kaleb with another boy who died

The claim: Shriners Hospitals for Children patient ambassador Kaleb died

After years of fundraising, Shriners Hospitals for Children patient ambassador Kaleb-Wolf De Melo Torres has become a recognizable face to many. In late February,  some online took to social media to express sympathy after misinformed rumors claimed he’d died.

“R.I.P Kaleb…. I’m saddened over this news, I love seeing this sweet boy in the Shriners commercial” a Facebook user posted on Feb. 27.

The claim is accompanied by an image of Torres. The post explained that he died at 7 a.m. on Wednesday after spending “more than three years in hospice care at his South Whitehall Township home.”

It also provided details about his treatment at Shriners.

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The information about Torres’s treatment is accurate, however, the details of his purported death are false. Shriners has confirmed Torres is alive and doing well.

Shriners Hospitals is a system of 22 children’s hospitals that are supported by the Masonic Shriners International fraternity.  

"Editorial without words" statue outside of Shriner Hospitals for Children, Chicago. (Photo: Courtesy of Battle Creek Shrine Club)

Torres has appeared in Shriners’ advertisements and appeals to donors throughout his childhood. Born with brittle bone disease, he had his first surgery as a newborn and has been a Shriners patient ever since. According to Shriners’ website, Torres has broken his bones more than 200 times and has undergone at least 11 surgeries.

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USA TODAY reached out to several accounts that posted this false claim for comment. 

Shriners confirms Torres is doing well

The hospital system’s chief marketing officer, Mel Bower, shared a statement with USA TODAY via email.

“Thank you so much for your concern for Kaleb. We are happy to report that Kaleb is doing very well. The story you may have heard or read involves another child with the same name and spelling and is not associated with Shriners Hospitals for Children,” Bower said. “Online, our well-known Kaleb’s story became confused with the other child. We are currently working to dispel this rumor.”

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Shriners also dispelled rumors of Torres’s death via Twitter on Feb. 26 after a user questioned the claim.

Torres apparently confused with another boy also named Kaleb

A different boy with the same first name, Kaleb Holder, died Feb. 19, 2020. Holder had a rare genetic brain condition, which left him bedridden since Dec. 21, 2016. Holder’s story drew significant media attention after the Lehigh Country Sheriff’s Office in Allentown, Pennsylvania, appointed him an honorary sheriff in 2016. 

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“Most of all he loved life, and all kinds of law enforcement and first responders,” stated Holder’s obituary. “He lived to one day serve his country.”

He was 12 years old when he died. 

Torres appears in recent Twitter video

Torres appears healthy in a video posted to Shriners’ Twitter account on Feb. 27. In the video, he dances and wishes Shiners Hospitals Chairman of the Board Jim Smith a happy birthday. 

“Did you know that next Tuesday, March 2, is Imperial sir Jim Smith’s birthday?” he says in the video, making clear that the video was after rumors falsely claimed he’d died. 

Kaleb is so excited to be the FIRST to wish Imperial Potentate Jim Smith a Happy Birthday, he sent us this video today to share! Join Kaleb by sharing this video and using the hashtag #HappyBirthdayJim  pic.twitter.com/48If6wk54d

Our rating: False

We rate the claim that Shriners Hospitals for Children patient ambassador Kaleb-Wolf De Melo Torres has died FALSE because it is not supported by our research. A representative for the hospital system and a recent video of confirm he is alive and well. Social media posts have confused Torres with a deceased boy who shares the same first name. 

Our fact-check sources:

  • YouTube, shrinershospitals, Aug. 6, 2020, “Kaleb’s Story”
  • Shriners International, accessed Feb. 28, “Who are the Shriners?”
  • Shriners Hospitals for Children Canada, Sept. 26, 2014, Facebook post
  • Shiners Hospitals for Children| Love to the rescue, accessed Feb. 28, “THIS IS MY STORY”
  • USA TODAY, email with Mel Bower, Chief Marketing Officer for Shriners Hospitals for Children
  • Shriners Hospitals, Feb. 26, tweet
  • Nicols C. Elias Funeral Home, Inc., Feb. 22, 2020, “Kaleb G. Holder”
  • The Morning Call, Feb. 19, 2020, “Lehigh County’s ‘little sheriff’ dies after battle with terminal brain disease”
  • Shriners Hospitals, Feb. 27, tweet

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook. 

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