CDC Epidemiologist Found Dead Weeks After Going Missing, Drowning Suspected

Disease Controls Tom Harkin Global Communications Center

A US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doctor's body was discovered in a Georgia river after he had disappeared in February, police said Thursday.

The circumstances of Cunningham's death remain unclear, but the police said they don't suspect foul play in the case, and they believe he drowned somehow.

"The major drivers of this are decreases in numerous leading causes of death, such as heart disease, cancer and stroke", Cunningham told NPR's Rob Stein.

"Barring some new information coming forward - and obviously we're checking, you know, we'll check video, we'll check places he might have got access to the river - but barring new information coming forward we may never be able to tell you how he got into the river", O'Connor said. Stafford said that rescue crews had to use boats and special equipment to reach Cunningham's body because it was located in hard terrain in a "remote area not easily accessible". The scientist was wearing his favorite running shoes, O'Connor added.

Described as a highly respected epidemiologist - a "golden boy" by one colleague - for the CDC, the 35-year-old vanished after he left work on the morning of February 12, telling his CDC colleagues he wasn't feeling well.

Cunningham's Preliminary Cause of Death Is DrowningFulton County Chief Medical Examiner Jan Gorniak determined Cunningham's preliminary cause of death as drowning.

The CDC, however, fired back at the reports and said in March that Cunningham had received an early promotion. But police have found no evidence that Cunningham's disappearance was directly tied to his lack of promotion. In his home, they found his keys, phone, wallet containing his credit and debit cards and identification, and they even found his passport.

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"The most unusual factor in this case is that every single belonging that we are aware of was located in the residence", O'Connor previously told reporters.

When he left work later in the day it was the last time he was known to have been seen alive.

Cunningham's parents were notified by police about four bodies found as part of the search, only to be told later that none of them was of their son.

The article said he was continuing on his family's path into the medical field; his father was an Air Force nurse for 30 years, and his mother worked for the state health department as a program manager.

The New York Times reports his family said their last phone conversations with Cunningham had left them anxious and "he sounded not like himself".

"Tim's impact will be felt not only through his significant contributions to CDC's mission, but also through his influence on the lives of his colleagues and friends", the statement said.

Friends said Cunningham was smart and caring, with a big grin and big hugs to match. During this time, there was false information spread about the disappearance of Cunningham. "I can't tell you that he was jogging but those things together seem to indicate that that is a possibility".

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