It’s been one month since U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention epidemiologist Commander Timothy J. Cunningham, Sc.D., went missing. The Harvard-educated chronic disease specialist didn’t tell anyone where he was going, nor did he leave any apparent clues. On Monday, Rear Admiral Dr. Anne Schuchat, the CDC’s acting director, issued a press release that asked the public to come forward with any information that could help authorities find the missing scientist. But Schuchat also aimed the press release at Dr. Cunningham himself, writing, “Today marks one month since Commander (CDR) Timothy Cunningham was last seen, and we have not given up hope that he will soon be found. If Tim reads this message, we hope you come home soon.”
Dr. Cunningham, the commander of the U.S. Public Health Service, was last seen at the CDC offices in Atlanta on February 12, when he left work early, telling coworkers he didn’t feel well. Major Michael O’Connor of the Atlanta Police Department told reporters on February 27 that Dr. Cunningham went home shortly after a meeting with his supervisor, who explained that Dr. Cunningham had not received a promotion he was vying for.
The CDC’s Monday press release revises that account of events, saying that Dr. Cunningham had indeed received a promotion in 2017.
“There has been news coverage that Commander Cunningham recently did not receive a promotion. As many of his colleagues in the USPHS have pointed out, this information is incorrect,” writes Schuchat. “In fact, he received an early promotion/exceptional proficiency promotion to Commander effective July 1, 2017, in recognition of his exemplary performance in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). Over and above any of his assignments at CDC, his early promotion within the USPHS reflects his excellence as an officer and an employee.”
This discrepancy in people’s accounting of the events that preceded his disappearance adds to the layers of mystery.
Police investigators reported that Dr. Cunningham called his mother at 9:12 A.M. on February 12, but she missed the call, and he didn’t leave a voicemail. O’Connor told reporters that police believe he was on his way home from the CDC when he made the call. This is the last time anyone heard from him.
When a relative with a key visited Dr. Cunningham’s house to check in on him, they found two second-story windows open, but police suspect this was for his dog’s benefit. On February 14, Dr. Cunningham’s parents visited the house and quickly called the police. That’s when the mystery deepened even further.
“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 reporters. “His keys, his cell phone, credit cards, debit cards, wallet, all his identification, passports, anything you could think of, we’ve been able to locate. None of those items are missing.”
In the days and weeks since his disappearance, investigators have covered as many bases as possible, checking jails and hospitals, searching cell phone records, and searching the area by helicopter, reports the Washington Post. They don’t suspect foul play, but they haven’t ruled it out, either.
As strange and sad as this case already is, Schuchat’s Monday statement changes the whole mood. Schuchat’s assertion that the police and media have gotten the facts wrong makes this case even stranger.
Dr. Cunningham’s family and friends had raised over $15,000 to offer as a reward for information leading to his whereabouts as of last week, Newsweek reported. Anyone with information about Dr. Cunningham is urged to call 9-1-1 or the Atlanta Police Department at 404-546-4235.