Harvard-educated epidemiologist Dr. Timothy Cunningham had a lot going for him.
“Tim was always the golden boy,” says a colleague at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where Cunningham prominently studied heath patterns related to race, gender and geography. For his work, the Atlanta Business Chronicle featured the 35-year-old last October as one of its “40-Under-40” rising stars in the region.
“He expressed a strong desire to improve the health of others,” journalist Tonya Layman, who interviewed Cunningham for his Chronicle profile, tells PEOPLE. “I was really impressed with his intellect and his passion for the work he was doing.”
Then on the morning of Feb. 12, after telling co-workers he was going home sick, the unmarried scientist abruptly vanished.
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Left behind in his tidy yellow home was the dog he doted on, Mr. “Bo” Bojangles, along with Cunningham’s ID, credit cards and passport, according to police in this week’s issue of PEOPLE. His car was parked in the garage; his keys, wallet and phone all were safely locked inside the residence.
Seven weeks later, authorities and Cunningham’s family members still have no answers and little to guide them in their search.
“This is an extremely unusual set of circumstances,” Atlanta police major Michael O’Connor said at a Feb. 27 news conference. “Every single belonging we were aware of was located in the residence.”
He added: “It is not common in missing-person cases for us to find someone’s entire belongings.”
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Adding to the mystery are conflicting reports that something at work may have upset Cunningham. Police say he left the CDC the morning after his supervisor explained to him why he wasn’t being given a promotion — something the CDC disputes. He was “commended all the time,” says a coworker who asked not to be named.
Authorities say they’ve found no sign of foul play — but also no sign of Cunningham.
Says his neighbor Alison Lantana: “Everyone wants to know what happened.”
• With reporting by STEVE HELLING