Questions Remain In CDC Worker’s Death After Body Found In Atlanta River

Director of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Tom Frieden addresses the media on the Ebola case in the U.S. at the Tom Harkin Global Communications Center on October 5, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. The first confirmed Ebola virus patient in the United States was staying with family members at The Ivy Apartment complex before being treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. State and local officials are working with federal officials to monitor other individuals that had contact with the confirmed patient.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America

ATLANTA (AP) — Authorities have partially solved the mysterious disappearance of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee with the discovery of his body. But they may never know how he drowned in a river not far from his home.

Fishermen found Timothy Cunningham’s body on Tuesday partially submerged in water and mud on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River in Atlanta, fire-rescue department spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford said at a news conference.

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 at the news conference Thursday.

Maj. Michael O’Connor of the Atlanta Police Department’s Major Crimes Section said Thursday that investigators had spoken to everyone of importance and that barring any new information, “this case will likely close fairly soon.”

Cunningham, 35, was an epidemiologist at the Atlanta-based federal agency. He disappeared Feb. 12. His family reported him missing on Feb. 16 after going to his home and finding his belongings and vehicle there.

His family released a statement Thursday evening thanking investigators and rescue workers, news outlets reported.

“We appreciate all the time, attention and professionalism you have contributed as we searched for our beloved son and brother, Timothy Cunningham,” the statement said. “We sincerely thank all of you for the support and kindness you have shown our family during this difficult time.”

Rescue crews had to use boats and special equipment to reach Cunningham’s body after it was found Tuesday because it was in difficult terrain in a “remote area not easily accessible,” Stafford said. He noted the body was found in an area authorities had searched in February without finding anything. The site was not far from Cunningham’s house, O’Connor said.

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

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.

CDC officials also 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.

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