Body of Missing CDC Employee Found in River, Atlanta Police Say

When Timothy Cunningham didn't answer his family's calls or text, his worried parents drove to his Atlanta home from their home in Waldorf, Maryland

More than six weeks after he was reported missing, the body of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee was found in an Atlanta river this week, Atlanta police said Thursday.

The body of Timothy Jerrell Cunningham, 35, was found late Tuesday in the Chattahoochee River in northwest Atlanta, Atlanta Police Department spokesman Carlos Campos said in a news release.

Rescue crews had to use boats and special equipment to reach Cunningham's body after it was first found Tuesday because it was in difficult terrain in a "remote area not easily accessible," fire-rescue department spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford said at a news conference Thursday.

Fulton County Chief Medical Examiner Jan Gorniak determined the cause of death as drowning, but said she couldn't provide additional information because she was still awaiting toxicology reports.

"Since the investigation is ongoing, we do not have ... whether it was an accident, a suicide, or anything other than that" Cunningham drowned, Gorniak said.

Gorniak said the decomposing body was positively identified using dental records.

Fishermen first discovered Cunningham's body and called authorities, said Stafford, who noted that the body was found in an area authorities had searched in February without finding anything. The site where the body was found was not far from Cunningham's house, Maj. Michael O'Connor of the Atlanta Police Department's Major Crimes Section said. He did not elaborate.

O'Connor said investigators were satisfied that they had spoken to everyone of importance in the case.

"At this stage, we are waiting for some information from the medical examiner's office — or if someone were to bring new information to us that was relevant, then we would obviously look at that — but absent those circumstances, this case will likely close fairly soon," he said.

Police said at a press conference that while the investigation is ongoing, the cause of death is believed to be drowning and that there are no indications of foul play at this point. Officials added that Cunningham was found in jogging clothes, though they could not say whether he was exercising before he died.

Police previously had said they had no evidence of foul play but couldn't rule it out. The civilian group Crime Stoppers offered a reward of up to $15,000 for information pointing to any criminal activity.

He was last seen Feb. 12 after calling in sick from work. Cunningham's family told NBC News his sister was the last person to speak with him, around 7 a.m. that day. 

After Cunningham didn't answer his family's calls or text, his worried parents drove from their home in Waldorf, Maryland, to his Atlanta home the night of Feb. 12. When they arrived, they found his car, keys, wallet and phone, WSB-TV reported. They said he also left his dog at home.  

Police said it would be considered unusual for a person to be without identification or keys. But officials said they did not know the specific habits of Cunningham, for example, what he did or did not carry when jogging.

CDC officials said previously that reports Cunningham had been passed over for a promotion were incorrect. In a statement, the CDC said Cunningham received an "exceptional proficiency promotion" July 1 to the position of commander, an early promotion reflecting his excellence as an employee.

His father, Terrell Cunningham, told WSB that his son graduated from Morehouse and got a master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University. He worked as an epidemic intelligence officer and has been deployed for public health emergencies. 

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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