The search for a granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy and her 8-year-old son, who went missing after they took a canoe out into rough waters on Chesapeake Bay, turned into a recovery mission late Friday, a family member said late Friday.
Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, 40, and her son, Gideon, rowed the canoe out around 4 p.m. on Thursday to fetch a ball that had been kicked into the water by children playing in their yard, Maeve’s husband, David McKean, told The Washington Post. “They just got farther out then they could handle, and couldn’t get back in,” he said.
Emergency services said they received calls around 4:30 p.m. about a pair in a canoe struggling to return to shore. An overturned canoe matching the description of the one that went missing was recovered, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources police said.
Thursday was very windy and an ocean storm off the coast of New England made conditions treacherous.
After search operations late Thursday and throughout the day on Friday, former Maryland Lieutenant Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maeve’s mother, announced on Friday night that efforts had turned from “rescue to recovery.”
“My heart is crushed, yet we shall try to summon the grace of God and what strength we have to honor the hope, energy and passion that Maeve and Gideon set forth into the world,” she wrote in a statement, noting that Maeve had “devoted her life to helping society’s most vulnerable” and “did everything with her full self and her whole heart.”
McKean is executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative and the grand-niece of former President John F. Kennedy.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan confirmed the suspected drowning on Friday and said an “intensive search” was underway.
“I spoke with Lieutenant Governor Townsend and, on behalf of the people of Maryland, I expressed our most heartfelt sympathies to her and to her entire family,” he said.
McKean served in the Peace Corps in Mozambique before returning home in 2002 to help her mother, Kathleen, campaign for governor of Maryland. She also worked for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), where she met her husband, also a human rights lawyer. McKean worked on the State Department’s global AIDS program and on human rights in the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration.
The Kennedy family has endured an extraordinary amount of tragedy over several generations, from the high-profile assassinations of McKean’s grandfather and great-uncle to the fatal plane crash that killed John F. Kennedy Jr., to the heart attack that killed Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s niece, Kara, in 2011 and the death by suicide of his ex-wife, Mary, in 2012.
Just last year, McKean’s cousin, Saoirse Roisin Kennedy Hill, died of an accidental drug overdose at the Kennedy family compound in Cape Cod.
In a 2003 New York Times profile on her marriage to David, McKean was described as a free spirit who was, according to her father David L. Townsend, “always playful, a kind of Annie Oakley character.”
The pair were married at the Woman’s National Democratic Club, a sprawling Washington mansion, and told the Times that they bonded over everything from literature to politics and social justice. “We’re very much in love,” Maeve told the newspaper. “And we’re kind of cheesy, too.”
Gideon is the couple’s first child and was reportedly named after a Supreme Court case that ordered states to pay for public defenders. They have another son and daughter.
Maeve McKean’s sister, Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, is an ER doctor who has been working on the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City.