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R.I. police chief: ‘Yes, Scarlett, there is a Santa Claus’

Scarlett Doumato, 10, sent half-chewed cookies and carrots to the Cumberland Police Department and asked them to “take a sample of DNA and see if Santa is real?” They investigated, and then held a press conference to explain what they found.

Scarlett Doumato, the girl who challenged the Cumberland Police Department to prove whether Santa Claus exists, was a awarded a Junior Detective badge and a full CSI kit Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023.Carlos Muñoz

CUMBERLAND, R.I. — Not a creature was stirring at the Cumberland Public Safety Headquarters — rare tranquility for the police precinct — moments before a press conference to reveal if evidence turned in by a 10-year-old girl could positively identify Santa Claus.

Maybe it was hope or heartfelt joy that something magical had happened in the town this past Christmas. But friends and family of the inquisitive Scarlett Doumato, police officers, and media waited as silent as mice for the answer.

To quote New York Sun editor Francis B. Church, Police Chief Matthew Benson told Scarlett, who sat in the front row with her family, “Yes, Scarlett, there is a Santa Claus.”


Benson said the only way he could articulate the findings was to read a passage from Church’s response to a little girl named Virginia’s question “Is there a Santa Claus?” published in the New York Sun on Sept. 21, 1897.

“He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. ... How dreary would be the world if there was no Santa Claus! It would be dreary as if there were no Scarletts,” Benson recited, substituting Scarlett’s name for “Virginia” in the original column. “There would be no childlike faith, then no poetry no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.”

“Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see,” he continued. “Nobody can conceive or imagine all wonder there are, unseen and unseeable, in the world.”


Whatever motivated Scarlett to submit a gnawed-on Oreo cookie and the carrot sticks she found Christmas morning gave the world some happiness, Benson told Scarlett.

Scarlett Doumato, the girl who challenged the Cumberland Police Department to prove whether Santa Claus exists, was a awarded a Junior Detective badge and a full CSI kit Wednesday, Feb. 1.Carlos Muñoz

“Undoubtedly, you will someday grow to understand the enormity of what your simple inquiry and actions provided so many,” the chief said.

Scarlett’s request for the police to “take a sample of DNA and see if Santa is real?” is the “greatest gift anyone could have been given — bigger than Santa,” said Benson showing maps of where in the world people saw her story, which went viral.

The Cumberland Police Department first told the public about receiving Scarlett’s letter in a Facebook post on Jan. 20.

Scarlett wrote, “Dear Cumberland Police Dapartment,[sic] I took a sample of a cookie and carrots that I left for Santa and the reindeer on Christmas Eve and was wondering if you could take a sample of DNA and see if Santa is real?”

A young resident of Cumberland, R.I., sent a letter to local police, asking them to do some DNA testing on samples of partially eaten Christmas cookies and carrots to see if Santa is real.Courtesy of Cumberland Police Department

Benson said in a statement that his investigators opened an investigation and forwarded the “evidence” to the state health laboratory for analysis.

“This young lady obviously has a keen sense for truth and the investigative process and did a tremendous job packaging her evidence for submission,” Benson said in the statement. “We will do our very best to provide answers for her.”

Police kept in touch with Scarlett and provided evidence from its own inquiry into the presence of St. Nick in her neighborhood on Dec. 24 — a black and white picture of a large deer from a trail camera.


Benson, who showed a video of the forensic investigation during the press conference, said results from the Rhode Island Health Department Forensic Sciences Unit could not “refute or confirm” the presence of Santa but it agreed that “something magical” happened.

Cumberland Police Chief Matthew Benson explains the steps taken during a forensic investigation into whether Santa's DNA was on the milk and cookies sent in by 10-year-old Scarlett Doumato. Scarlett and her family attended a press conference at the police station on Feb. 1, 2023.Carlos Muñoz

The health department said it “prioritized” the exam but did not get hits from the Combined DNA Index System used to identify matches across the country to help solve cold cases.

In a letter posted on Twitter, RIDOH said, “Interestingly, there was a partial match to a 1947 case centered around 34th Street in New York City but RIDOH said it would need more samples from other Santa sightings to make a more definitive match. The snacks did not contain any food-borne illnesses, and the curious presence of DNA “closely matching” reindeer was found.

Jolene Alves, captain of administration for the Cumberland Police Department, admired Scarlett’s eagerness to dig for answers. She had a one-on-one chat with the young girl before the press conference and they talked about her future.

“I asked her what she wanted to be when she got older,” Alves said. “She wanted to be a police officer, an investigator, a forensic scientist — you know where her head was — and her and her mom talked about it, and she said, ‘yeah, police officer.’ I said, ‘that’s awesome.’”

Alves has been with the department for almost 19 years. She said the Santa caper was one of the most important cases she’s worked on.


Fingerprints from a "suspect" -- a person dressed as Santa who was taken into "custody" by the Cumberland police during the investigation -- are shown on a screen during the press conference. Carlos Muñoz

“And I said thank you for bringing in your evidence and letting me work on it,” Alves said. “That was awesome. You did a great job packaging all that and you got a bright future ahead of you. And I just wanted to emphasize how important she is to us. And that one little thing she did just brought us all right back to where we needed to be right now.”

Benson ended the press conference by making a statement about the existence of the jolly elf.

“To answer your question, yes, there is a Santa Claus, and that same spirit resides in you. I thank you for the joy you brought me, my staff, and this community,” the chief said. “And for the millions across the world who believe in Santa Claus right along with you, they too say, thank you.”

Scarlett’s mom, Alyson Doumato, said the reason her daughter sent in the morsels “is just Scarlett. She’s always looking for answers.”

Scarlett’s father, Matt Doumato, said his daughter turned 10 about a week and a half before Christmas. She couldn’t wait to find out the answer to her question.

“After she found out the first round of results, she said, well, next year I’m gonna swab the cup with the milk and swab the insides of our mouths and try to still keep going.”

Scarlett told the Globe, she’s “just curious” about Santa.

Asked if she believed in Santa Claus, she stood quietly pondering the question — but didn’t give an answer.


Maybe next year.

Scarlett Doumato, who challenged the Cumberland Police Department to prove whether Santa Claus exists, stands with her parents, Alyson and Matt Doumato, and her older brother, Gianni, at a press conference at the police department on Feb. 1, 2023.Carlos Muñoz

Carlos Muñoz can be reached at carlos.munoz@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @ReadCarlos and on Instagram @Carlosbrknews.