Body of missing CDC employee found in Chattahoochee River
A medical examiner said it appears he went into the water on Feb. 12, the day of his disappearance.
by Phil McCausland
The body of a missing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee, who mysteriously vanished almost two months ago, has been recovered from the Chattahoochee River, Atlanta police said on Thursday.
Timothy Cunningham, 35, worked as a commander in the U.S. Public Health Service, but he disappeared after he went home sick on Feb. 12. His case made national headlines as police, family and friends searched for any trace of him.
Fishermen found the severely decomposed body on Tuesday night about 400 yards upstream from where the Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway crosses the river, authorities said Thursday. They noted that Cunningham's body was found stuck in the mud on the bank of the river face up.
"As it stands right now, there’s been no foul play indicated to this point," said Major Michael O'Connor, the commander of the Atlanta Police Department's Major Crimes Section, at a press conference Thursday.
"Barring some new information coming forward we may never be able to tell you how he got into the river," he added, noting that Cunningham was wearing his "favorite" jogging shoes and carried two crystals in his pocket.
Cunningham was an avid collector of such rocks, authorities said.
O'Connor said he expected to close Cunningham's case in the next month if authorities did not uncover any new information. He said investigators had spoken to nearly every significant person in Cunningham's life and tracked his last movements captured on videotape.
Fulton County Medical Examiner Jan Gorniak told reporters that, based on the condition of the body, it appeared Cunningham went into the water on Feb. 12, the day of his disappearance. The cause of death seemed to be drowning, she said.
Cunningham was a decorated officer in the U.S. Public Health Service and had responded to the Ebola virus and the Zika virus outbreaks, the CDC said. He held two degrees from Harvard University.
He was also well regarded in the community, where he earned the Outstanding Atlanta award in 2014 in recognition of his "service, leadership and achievements of Atlanta young professionals" and named to the Atlanta Business Chronicle's 40 under 40 last year.
"He has this pristine service record and background, and then he’s also the guy you can call to help you move furniture or get together with you at a restaurant at the end of a long day," close friend David Calloway told NBC News nearly 12 days after Cunningham's disappearance.
His family said in February that they were concerned about his state of mind.
"Tim had been in communication with us extensively on Sunday [Feb. 11], and I pinpoint Sunday because there were some exchanges via phone as well as text that alerted me to be concerned about our son," his father Terrell Cunningham said at the time.
Cunningham's parents grew so concerned that they drove overnight from their Maryland home to Atlanta. They found their son's house undisturbed and his phone, wallet, keys and car untouched. His dog was also left at home, his parents said.
Search efforts for Cunningham were ongoing since his February disappearance and included organizing small and large groups to canvas and flyer the local area. Searchers also used social media, digital messaging services and the Morehouse University alumni network to try to find Cunningham.
"There has been an outpouring of love from his neighbors and the community, but my main focus is just that my son returns home," his mother Tia-Juana Cunningham said in February.