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Airman who went missing in Fells Point died accidentally, his family says

Before his disappearance touched off a regional manhunt and his body was recovered from the waters off Fells Point, Evan Curbeam had been a standout in the Air National Guard. Last year, he appeared in a recruitment video. This year he was named Airman of the Year for his unit.

"I always saw him racing through the ranks, especially doing it full time," said Air National Guard member Jason Harden of Elgin, Ill. "You could tell in his eyes he was hungry for it."

Curbeam, 29, of Rosedale was found dead in the harbor the day before Thanksgiving, ending what friends and family said was a promising career and leaving a 4-year-old daughter fatherless. The exhaustive search for Curbeam had begun when he failed to pick up his daughter, Julia, as scheduled on Saturday morning after going out with friends.

On Friday, Curbeam's family said in a statement that his death was accidental. Mary-Margaret Stepanian, a family friend, said police told the family that detectives found no signs of foul play and believed Curbeam accidentally fell while walking along the edge of the harbor.

Curbeam couldn't swim, Stepanian said.

Police said their investigation remains open pending an autopsy. Determination of the cause and manner of Curbeam's death is awaiting a toxicology report and other tests and could take several days, said Bruce Goldfarb, spokesman for the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Harden said it was clear that Curbeam was going places in the Air National Guard. Even in basic training, Curbeam held leadership positions, and Harden said he was not surprised to learn his friend had recently been named Airman of the Year for the D.C. Air National Guard.

Curbeam had served for two years and worked full time at Joint Base Andrews in the munitions section of the 113th Maintenance Squadron. His parents plan to accept the Airman of the Year award on his behalf next week.

Curbeam and Harden met last fall when they were both selected to appear in a Guard recruiting commercial. The two bonded right away when they found themselves prepping for the shoot in a bathroom at an Air Force base in Peoria, Ill.

"He was telling me how much he liked working for the Air Guard. We were pumped to shoot this commercial," Harden said.

Curbeam appears about halfway through the 30-second ad, manning a grill to demonstrate that National Guard members can serve part time and close to home.

"He was a natural. He was twirling the spatula around, and the producer was saying, 'That's great!' " Harden said.

Curbeam was last seen at about 1:30 a.m. last Saturday, leaving a group of friends at the Bond Street Social bar to walk to his car, parked at Eastern Avenue and Broadway.

His family reported him missing to Baltimore County police, and city homicide detectives later took over the investigation. Divers recovered his body near the Recreation Pier on Wednesday afternoon.

Stepanian said Curbeam's parents, David and Tonya Thomas, were "humbled and thankful" for the outpouring of support from authorities and concerned residents who shared Evan's photograph on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to aid in the search. They also thanked Polytechnic Institute's Class of 2002, Curbeam's graduating class.

"They really are taking comfort in the fact that so many people were so respectful," Stepanian said.

After graduating from Poly, Curbeam headed to Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, where he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering technology in 2007, said Bob Finnerty, an RIT spokesman. While there, Curbeam played baseball for a year and was a sprinter and jumper on the track and field team, Finnerty said.

Curbeam also earned a master's degree in systems engineering and engineering management from George Washington University in 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile. School officials could not be reached Friday.

Meir Curry said Curbeam had a positive outlook. The two became friends as teenagers, riding the bus home from high school after sports practice — Curbeam played baseball and Curry played softball.

Earlier this year, Curbeam portrayed King Musa I, a 14th-century ruler of Mali, and stepped in as Thurgood Marshall in a play that Curry put on for Black History Month at St. John's Christian Community Church.

"He had a very positive attitude and a positive perspective on life and how to live life to the fullest," she said. "That was Evan's motto. Every day, he lived life to the fullest.

"Everybody loved him. Evan didn't have any enemies," Curry said.

They last hung out earlier this month at the annual City-Poly football game. When Curry texted Curbeam before the game to ask if he was ready, Curbeam responded with pictures of his old Poly baseball jersey and letterman's jacket, fresh from the cleaners.

"He was beyond ready," Curry said.

Sian Williams also kept up with Curbeam after high school. They met in the marching band, where Curbeam played on the drum line and Williams was in the flag and poms group. "He was always talking, really goofy, really social," Williams said.

Williams and Curbeam video-chatted while he was at basic training and talked more often when he returned to Baltimore. The last time they saw each other was at the City-Poly game.

"The Poly family is pretty tight, even with different classes," Williams said. "When you lose one, it hurts everybody."

Funeral services for Curbeam will be private, his family said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.

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