CDC researcher’s death ruled a suicide by drowning

The death of an Atlanta researcher whose body was pulled from the Chattahoochee River has been ruled a suicide by drowning, the Fulton County Medical Examiner said Tuesday.

Timothy Cunningham, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was reported missing Feb. 14 from his northwest Atlanta home. On April 3, the 35-year-old’s body was found in the Chattahoochee River.

RELATED: CDC corrects the record on its missing employee

AND: 5 things we know about missing researcher Tim Cunningham

Cunningham’s parents told investigators their son had not been diagnosed with depression, but did have mood swings, according to documents released by the Medical Examiner’s office.

His parents also questioned whether he could have been given some type of drug that changed his behavior in the days before his disappearance.

Toxicology tests performed on his body showed Cunningham had marijuana in his system, but there were no other significant findings, Dr. Jan Gorniak, chief medical examiner, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There were no signs of other trauma and it’s still unknown how he came to be in the river.

His parents and sister told investigators that in phone calls and text messages with Cunningham shortly before he disappeared, they noticed a difference in his tone. Atlanta police previously said Cunningham had been upset over not getting a promotion, though the CDC later said he had received a promotion several months prior to his disappearance.

Cunningham’s parents suspected something was wrong when they were unable to reach him by phone. The two drove from their Maryland home to their son’s Atlanta home, where they found all of his personal belongings inside the house, including his wallet, cellphone, SUV and beloved dog, Mr. Bojangles.

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Fishermen spotted a body in the Chattahoochee on April 3, and two days later, the Medical Examiner’s office identified the remains as belonging to Cunningham.

Atlanta police have said the department’s investigation into Cunningham’s disappearance and death has been closed.

Hundreds attended the memorial service for Cunningham, a graduate of Morehouse College and Harvard University. Family and friends described a goal-oriented, driven man with a passion for helping others.

“It wasn’t just a career or job for him,” Capt. Marcella Law with the National Center for Chronic Disease told the crowd. “Tim felt that it was his calling to use his gift and change lives.”