The Atlanta Police Department was clear: A researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had disappeared the same day he learned why he was passed over for a promotion.
But exactly one month after Timothy Cunningham vanished, abandoning everything he would need to survive and leaving no clues about his whereabouts, the CDC issued an unusual rebuke of that police finding.
“There has been news coverage that Commander Cunningham recently did not receive a promotion,” the CDC said in a statement Monday. “As many of his colleagues in the USPHS have pointed out, this information is incorrect.”
The statement referred to the U.S. Public Health Service, the uniformed service where Cunningham, 35, works as an epidemiologist.
“In fact,” the CDC statement continued, “he received an early promotion/exceptional proficiency promotion to Commander effective July 1, 2017, in recognition of his exemplary performance.”
The statement comes weeks after the Feb. 27 briefing by Maj. Michael O’Connor of the Atlanta police major crimes section said the CDC itself “did note that he had been up for this promotion, which he did not receive.”
That is now in apparent dispute by the CDC.
On Tuesday, Atlanta police spokesman D.T. Hannah said in a statement: “We stand behind every statement the Atlanta Police Department made about Dr. Cunningham’s employment, as our information came directly from the CDC.”
The CDC did not respond to multiple requests for comment about the discrepancy between their statement and information released by the police, or how the promotion Cunningham received over the summer was relevant.
Cunningham held a meeting on Feb. 12 with his supervisor, O’Connor said in the Feb. 27 briefing. “The purpose of that meeting was to explain a promotion he did not receive to branch manager,” he said. Cunningham was told the previous week he was not getting the job, O’Connor said.
Responding to a reporter’s questions regarding any workplace incidents or problems, O’Connor said no issues were evident following interviews with Cunningham’s colleagues – apart from the apparent bad news about the position. “We’ve talked to several of his co-workers, and they indicated obviously he was disappointed about this promotion,” he said.
Cunningham told colleagues he was not feeling well and left CDC headquarters soon after, O’Connor said, after calling in sick the previous two work days. A call to his sister before work was the last contact he had with his family, O’Connor said in the news conference, triggering a search for Cunningham’s whereabouts. His car, keys, wallet, phone and dog were all at his home.
Atlanta police did not have further updates to provide Tuesday.
Cunningham has been a prominent fixture in the Atlanta community. In an Atlanta Business Chronicle 40 Under 40 Awards profile last year, Cunningham said he was “using the skills I have to improve and help the lives of others,” referring to his work at the CDC.
The article said he was continuing on his family’s path into the medical field; his father was an Air Force nurse for 30 years, and his mother worked for the state health department as a program manager.
“Dr. Cunningham’s colleagues and friends at CDC hope that he is safe,” agency spokeswoman Kathy Harben told The Post after his disappearance. “We want him to return to his loved ones and his work – doing what he does best as a CDC disease detective – protecting people’s health.”
In the statement released Monday, the CDC said Cunningham’s July promotion “reflects his excellence as an officer and an employee.”