CDC Epidemiologist Found Dead Weeks After Going Missing, Drowning Suspected

Statement To The Media From Acting CDC Director RADM Anne Schuchat, MD | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC

Statement To The Media From Acting CDC Director RADM Anne Schuchat, MD | CDC Online Newsroom | CDC

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist who mysteriously vanished seven weeks ago has been found dead in a river in northwest Atlanta, authorities said on Thursday.

Fulton County's Chief Medical Examiner Jan Gorniak, DO, said the positive identification was confirmed by dental records and that the preliminary cause of death was drowning. The manner of death has not yet been determined, but officials say there were no signs of foul play.

Sgt. Cortez Stafford, a spokesman for the Atlanta Fire Department, said the department had searched the area of the river where the body was found on February 23.

"Barring new information coming forward, we may never be able to tell you how he got into the river".

Cunningham reportedly called his sister the morning he was last seen.

O'Connor addressed that rumor last month, noting that Cunningham was with the chronic disease unit and not the infectious disease unit.

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About a week before his disappearance, Cunningham was told by his CDC supervisor that he would not get a promotion; an explanation was given to him on February 12 - the Monday he went missing. During an April 5 press conference, Atlanta police could not explain why the CDC worker did not have any of his belongings with him when he died. The CDC did not identify any problems with his job performance or workplace issues beyond the promotion denial, O'Connor said. 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.

Friends also found the disappearance troublingly out of character.

The agency said he'd been deployed to work on numerous public-health emergencies, including Superstorm Sandy, the Ebola outbreak, and the Zika outbreak.

When they arrived at his house a few days later, Cunningham's parents said, they knew something was wrong because his Tibetan spaniel was unattended. He held two degrees from Harvard University.

Cunningham's work at the CDC fueled speculation and conspiracy theories about his disappearance, including one dubious story on a website that said Cunningham disappeared amid warnings that his patients were dying from botched flu vaccines.

Gorniak added that the condition of Cunningham's body is "consistent" with having been in the water since the day he went missing and there were no signs of trauma or underlying medical conditions.

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