BREAKING NEWS : Police searching for missing 89-year-old Wabash County woman Full Story

Missing CDC epidemiologist was passed up for promotion, police say

The missing epidemiologist from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was informed why he didn't get a pr...

Posted: Feb 28, 2018 9:33 AM
Updated: Feb 28, 2018 9:33 AM

The missing epidemiologist from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was informed why he didn't get a promotion shortly before he disappeared more than two weeks ago, police said Tuesday.

Timothy J. Cunningham, 35, was last seen February 12 after leaving work early, saying he didn't feel well. Police have canvassed his neighborhood, nearby woods, a cemetery and other areas, finding no clues on his whereabouts. There have been no bank transactions in the weeks since, said Atlanta Police Maj. Michael O'Connor of the major crimes unit.

Timothy J. Cunningham of Atlanta was last seen February 12

Police: "This is an extremely unusual set of circumstances"

"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. "His keys, his cell phone, credit cards, debit cards, wallet, all of his identification. Anything you could think of, we've been able to locate. None of those items are missing."

On the morning of the disappearance, he said, Cunningham was informed by his supervisor as to why he wasn't receiving a promotion at work. He had been told a week before that he was being passed over for the job.

Colleagues told police that Cunningham was "obviously disappointed" by the news and that he left work shortly after, saying he didn't feel well, according to O'Connor.

At 9:12 a.m., Cunningham called his mother's cell phone, but she was at the gym and did not answer. Cunningham did not leave a message, O'Connor said.

O'Connor acknowledged that the circumstances of this case were perplexing: "There is a lot I simply cannot explain. This is an extremely unusual set of circumstances.

"We're looking at everything," he said.

Conspiracy theories have abounded about the disappearance, including one internet rumor that Cunningham was a whistle-blower who had warned about the flu shot being responsible for this year's deadly flu season. O'Connor said it was important to note that Cunningham was with the chronic disease unit of the CDC, not with the infectious disease unit.

"He had no access to classified material," O'Connor said. "He would not be of the type of person that, if you kidnapped him and held him, he could give you access to some horrific virus that could be a real problem for all the rest of us."

Cunningham's father, Terrell, told CNN that the rumor "is a lie."

"It is not factual," he said emphatically.

Cunningham is a highly respected epidemiologist at the CDC, having risen through the ranks to become a team leader in the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He even earned a spot last year in the Atlanta Business Chronicle's 40 Under 40 list, a who's-who of the city's residents.

The disappearance has prompted a high-profile police search and a $10,000 reward for material information in the case.

Four times since their son went missing, Cunningham's parents have been told that a body has been found. Each time, Tia and Terrell Cunningham are sent into heart-wrenching agony, only to learn that it isn't their son.

"It takes you to a place that the light is not shining in," Terrell Cunningham said. "I won't call it a dark place, but they are lows. This is extremely hard."

Cunningham is the middle of their three grown children. "We really need him back to complete our circle," his mother said.

Fliers have begun circulating across Atlanta, showing Cunningham's magnetic smile and urging anyone with information to call 911. Friends say he is smart and caring, a man with a big grin who liked doling out big hugs to match his smile.

Pat Upshaw-Monteith, president and CEO of Leadership Atlanta, said she had recently met with Cunningham because he is taking on one of its highest-level volunteer positions. "Everything seemed to be going very, very well for him -- and then for him to disappear, it just doesn't add up," she said.

Cunningham works in epidemiology, trying to understand health differences across demographics. With more than 16 years of experience in public health, he has co-authored 28 publications on topics ranging from sleep deprivation to pulmonary disease, with a special focus on how health issues affect minorities. He worked on public health emergencies including Superstorm Sandy, the Ebola outbreak and the Zika virus.

The parents said they had a worrisome phone call with their son and exchange of texts the evening of February 11. "We've shared that with the detectives, and we've kept that as a private matter," his father said.

"As a parent, you have indicators when things are just not right with your child, and that was the case," he said.

His mother said she received a text message at 5:21 a.m. on the day he was last seen. "Are you awake?" her son asked.

Her phone was on silent mode. "I wish I had that opportunity to answer that text," she said.

When they arrived at their son's house after he went missing, the parents said, they felt something was wrong because he had left his Tibetan spaniel unattended. The dog, officially named Mister Bojangles Cunningham but known as Bo, had twice accompanied Cunningham to Harvard, where he went for his master's and doctoral degrees.

He loves the dog so much, his parents said, he'd drive the 130 miles to Tuskegee, Alabama, to have the pooch's teeth cleaned. "I tell you all that to really understand the relationship of Tim and Bo," the father said. "To work as hard as he has worked -- and to just now disappear -- it's such a challenge for us to understand."

Both parents said they've been sustained by the outpouring of support from strangers and friends alike -- and that their faith has helped them get through these difficult two weeks. "I often say, 'Lord, you have put me in this position. What would you have me to learn?' " his father said.

"I'm praying for a positive outcome but having difficulty in understanding the lesson."

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
Decatur376895
Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
LaGrange312074
Spencer310734
Fountain306553
Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
Vermillion225850
Rush225530
Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1319265

Reported Deaths: 21265
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1480641537
Cuyahoga1311202313
Hamilton948871307
Montgomery647451122
Summit548531041
Lucas49502853
Butler45993649
Stark39954963
Lorain30438525
Warren29170326
Mahoning25988629
Clermont24726278
Lake24088411
Delaware21722140
Licking19822239
Fairfield19780218
Greene19671266
Medina19208285
Trumbull19195506
Clark17188321
Portage15585224
Richland15540228
Wood15187208
Allen13654254
Miami13283244
Muskingum11821148
Wayne11448234
Columbiana11100239
Tuscarawas10388264
Marion10273144
Pickaway10162128
Scioto9766124
Erie9479170
Ross8979172
Lawrence8225116
Hancock8105140
Ashtabula8083184
Geauga7976155
Belmont7791183
Jefferson7093168
Huron7087125
Union703549
Washington6823116
Athens666163
Sandusky6608132
Darke6394135
Knox6308120
Seneca6113135
Auglaize569888
Ashland5631110
Shelby555799
Mercer545188
Brown533067
Defiance5278100
Madison527368
Crawford5148113
Highland514876
Fulton508781
Clinton505379
Logan494582
Preble4788110
Putnam4733106
Guernsey439057
Williams437281
Champaign426463
Ottawa425783
Perry414051
Jackson402259
Pike367140
Morrow359149
Fayette353951
Coshocton345064
Hardin341868
Adams338864
Gallia329254
Holmes3148107
Henry312668
Van Wert299269
Hocking280467
Wyandot271858
Carroll250451
Paulding231742
Meigs197842
Monroe178649
Noble160340
Morgan153528
Harrison145740
Vinton130217
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 80°
Angola
Clear
79° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 55°
Feels Like: 79°
Huntington
Clear
80° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 80°
Decatur
Clear
81° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 80°
Van Wert
Partly Cloudy
82° wxIcon
Hi: 84° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 82°
Friday is the beginning for a more summer-like forecast, with more heat and humidity returning to the region.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events