Nation & World

Where is Timothy Cunningham? Rumors, pleas fly since CDC scientist strangely vanishes

Timothy Cunningham, a 35-year-old epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, has been missing since Feb. 12.  Police, family and friends have few clues to his whereabouts.
Timothy Cunningham, a 35-year-old epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, has been missing since Feb. 12. Police, family and friends have few clues to his whereabouts. Twitter

Where is Timothy Cunningham?

His family, friends, neighbors, co-workers and scores of people in Atlanta and across the United States want to, need to, know.

His smiling face is on "missing" fliers posted all around Atlanta.

The 35-year-old Cunningham, described as a highly respected epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, mysteriously vanished after he left work on the morning of Monday, Feb. 12, telling his CDC colleagues he wasn't feeling well.

Police investigators think he went back to his northwest Atlanta home, but that's about all they know about his last movements.

Police have knocked on doors in his neighborhood and searched nearby woods and a cemetery in the area, CNN reports. There have been no bank transactions since he went missing, no sightings.

It's as if Cunningham — described by family and friends as loving, brilliant and responsible — has vanished into thin air.

Four times since he went missing, his parents have been told a body has been found.

Four times, they waited to hear if it was their son.

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

In the first days of Cunningham's disappearance, conspiracy theorists filled in their own blanks. Some people speculated that Cunningham was a whistle-blower who had warned that the flu shot was responsible for this year's deadly season.

His father says that's a lie.

Police shot down the theory, too, saying Cunningham worked with chronic, not infectious, diseases, and didn't have access to classified information. He also reportedly assisted the CDC's response to Ebola and Zika outbreaks.

The CDC is said to be cooperating with the investigation.

"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," Atlanta Police Maj. Michael O'Connor of the major crimes unit, told CNN.

People from across the country have contributed nearly $25,000 to a GoFundMe reward seeking information about his whereabouts.

"The most unusual factor in this case is that every single belonging that we are aware of was located in the residence," O'Connor told the media.

"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."

His parents drove from Maryland to Atlanta to check on him. His mother reported him missing on Feb. 14.

The fact that he left his beloved Tibetan spaniel, Mr. Bojangles, alone in his home was a red flag to his family. Their son loved that dog so much, his parents told CNN, he would drive 130 miles to Tuskegee, Ala., to have its teeth cleaned.

On Tuesday the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which has blanketed the story, reported that Cunningham had been upset after being passed over for a promotion at work.

The Morehouse College and Harvard University graduate told family and friends he thought he was being promoted within the CDC's chronic disease unit. But on Feb. 5, he learned he didn't get the new job, the AJC reports.

Three days later he called in sick to work for two days, the CDC told police.

On Feb. 12, the last day anyone saw him, he texted his mom at 5:21 a.m. "Are you awake," he texted.

She had her phone on silent mode and missed the text.

A few hours later at work his supervisor reportedly talked to him about why he didn't get the promotion.

According to the AJC, he later told colleagues he wasn't feeling well and left work around 9 a.m.

He called his mother in Maryland at 9:12 a.m., according to CNN, but she was at the gym and missed the call.

He didn't leave a message.

The Cunninghams have told police about a "worrisome" phone call and text messages from him on Feb. 11, the details of which they shared with police but are keeping private from others.

"As a parent, you have indicators when things are just not right with your child, and that was the case," Terrell Cunningham told CNN.

In addition to the GoFundMe reward, Crime Stoppers of Greater Atlanta is offering a $10,000 reward for information into Cunningham's disappearance.

O'Connor has told media that investigators don't have any evidence that the promotion snub is linked to Cunningham's disappearance. The CDC has said there were no problems with his job performance or any other workplace issues.

"We're open to any and all possibilities," O'Connor said.

Cunningham reportedly made an odd request of one neighbor on the day before he went missing.

He told neighbor Viviana Tory's husband to tell her "to erase his cellphone number from my cellphone," Tory told CBS.

His parents told CNN they are being sustained by the support of strangers, friends and their faith.

"I often say, 'Lord, you have put me in this position. What would you have me to learn?'" Terrell Cunningham said. "I'm praying for a positive outcome but having difficulty in understanding the lesson."