Authorities still unclear on what caused CDC worker to drown
Now that authorities have found the body of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention employee who disappeared more than seven weeks ago, they will focus on piecing together his final moments.
Timothy Cunningham's body was found by fishermen partially submerged in water and mud on the west bank of the Chattahoochee River in northwest Atlanta, fire-rescue department spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford said at a news conference Thursday.
Stafford said 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."
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.
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.
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 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.