Police: Missing CDC researcher was upset he didn’t get a promotion

Timothy Jerrell Cunningham

Timothy Jerrell Cunningham

He believed he had earned a promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And when he didn’t, Timothy Cunningham was disappointed, and he let his family and co-workers know, Atlanta police said Tuesday.

After calling out sick for two days, Cunningham returned to work on Feb. 12, Major Michael O’Connor said. It was then Cunningham learned why he’d been passed over for the new job. It was also the last day anyone saw him or spoke with him, according to his family and police.

Cunningham left work again, telling his co-workers he didn’t feel well. Two days later, his keys, wallet, cell phone, vehicle and his beloved dog, Bo, where all found in his northwest Atlanta home, but there were no signs of Cunningham. Investigators admit they have very few clues to his disappearance.

The case has attracted national attention, fueled by speculation about whether Cunningham’s job as an epidemiologist with the CDC played a role in his disappearance. Cunningham did not have access to classified information, police said. The CDC is cooperating with the investigation.

“The most unusual factor in this case is that every single belonging that we are aware of was located in the residence.” O’Connor said. “So his keys, his cellphone, debit card, credit cards, wallet, all of his identification, passports. Anything you can think of, we’ve been able to locate. None of those items are missing.”

Feb 27, 2018 Atlanta: Major Michael O’Connor, Atlanta Police Department Major Crimes Commander, arrives for a press conference on missing CDC researcher Timothy Cunningham at the Atlanta Public Safety Headquarters on Tuesday, Feb 27, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Cunningham, a Morehouse College and Harvard University graduate, worked for the chronic disease department of the CDC. The 35-year-old was born in Alabama and later lived in the Philippines and Maryland, his mother said, before he moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse.

Tia-Juana Cunningham said it’s unusual for her son to not contact his family. She and her husband arrived at their son’s home the morning of Feb. 14 after numerous unsuccessful attempts to reach him. Timothy Cunningham’s last phone call was placed to his mother the morning of Feb. 12, but she missed his call, according to police.

Investigators have searched Cunningham’s home, his neighborhood, nearby woods, his browser history and contacted local hospitals and jails, O’Connor said. A police helicopter also searched the area near Cunningham’s home. But so far, police have come up empty. Neither personal or corporate credit cards have been used.

“We’re open to any and all possibilities at this time,” O’Connor said. “There’s no evidence suggesting anything.”

Timothy Cunningham, 35, was reported missing Feb. 14, two days after he left his job at the CDC and said he was ill.

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Investigators have also interviewed co-workers and friends, along with neighbors. Cunningham asked one neighbor to have his wife remove his phone number from her cellphone in the days before his disappearance, O’Connor said.

Additional searches are planned this week, police said. Though there is no evidence of foul play, O’Connor said it can’t be ruled out. Suicide is also a possibility that can’t be ruled out, police said.

“We don’t have any information going one way or another about what happened,” he said.

Cunningham’s family has partnered with Crime Stoppers of Greater Atlanta to offer a $10,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and indictment in this case. Information can be submitted anonymously to the Crime Stoppers Atlanta tip line at 404-577-TIPS (8477) or online at www.crimestoppersatlanta.org. Friends have created a Go Fund Me fundraising page to assist with the reward fund.

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