ATLANTA - Atlanta Police finally confirmed that a body found in the Chattahoochee River has been identified as the missing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worker Dr. Timothy Cunningham, whose disappearance gripped the nation.
In a press conference on Thursday afternoon, investigators said they have ruled out the possibility of foul play with the strange circumstances under which Cunningham vanished.
"We've talked to a lot of different people. We've looked at a lot of different factors. And through all of that, we have nothing that indicates foul play," said Atlanta Police Major Michael O'Connor of the Major Crimes Division."We may never be able to tell you how he got into the river," he said.
Tuesday evening, around 9:30 p.m., fishermen along the Chattahoochee River behind the Atlanta Public Safety Annex located along Donald Lee Hollowell Parkway near the city limits spotted a body and called 911; the body was recovered from a portion of the river that was not the bank of the river, face up and was possibly stuck in mud for quite some time, according to Sergeant Cortez Stafford of the Atlanta Fire Department.
"There was no signs of any foul play, right now the preliminary cause of death is drowning," said Fulton County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Jane Gorniak. "We do not have a manner of death, whether it's an accident or a suicide," she said.
Gorniak said it appears Cunningham drowned in the river around the time he vanished in February.
Police said Cunningham was wearing his favorite jogging shoes when his body was recovered, and believe it's possible he may have been running by the river.
On February 12, Cunningham was reported missing after leaving his job early. According to police, all of his belongings were left behind, including his wallet, keys and identification.
Before Cunningham's sudden disappearance, investigators said the epidemiologist had learned he was being passed up for a promotion, but the CDC later said that wasn’t the case. Officials with the CDC said he actually received an early promotion to Commander, effective July 1, which contradicted what was said during a police news conference.
Over the past few weeks, volunteers spent countless hours searching for any trace of the 35-year-old but didn’t have any luck.
On Thursday, the Fulton County Medical Examiner's Office had positively identified the victim as Cunningham through dental records.
There are still many unanswered questions surrounding Cunningham’s disappearance and what led up to his death. On Monday this week, Cunningham’s parents told the FOX News sister station in Cleveland their son provided a clue 24 hours before his disappearance, claiming they received a “disturbing” text from him but wouldn’t elaborate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the following statement Thursday:
“CDR Timothy Cunningham’s colleagues and friends at CDC are deeply saddened to learn of his death. Tim was a treasured member of the CDC family and his work as an epidemiologist was invaluable to CDC’s efforts to protect the health, safety, and security of Americans.
“Tim was a team lead in the Epidemiology and Surveillance Branch of CDC’s Division of Population Health. He also completed CDC’s Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer program. His research has been oriented towards understanding health differences related to race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, and geography. CDR Cunningham also deployed for numerous public health emergency responses, including Superstorm Sandy, Ebola, and Zika. He served in multiple leadership roles with the Atlanta Commissioned Officers Association.
“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. We extend our condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time.