A member of the Kennedy family and her young son are presumed dead after their canoe was found miles from where they were last seen struggling in choppy Chesapeake Bay waters.
The U.S. Coast Guard announced Friday evening the search would be suspended for Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, 40, and McKean’s 8-year-old son, Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean after an extensive 26-hour search that covered more than 3,600 square miles of air, sea and land.
“This was a difficult case, and even more difficult to make the decision to suspend the search,” Cmdr. Matthew Fine said in a statement. Fine is the deputy sector commander and active search suspension authority at Sector Maryland-National Capitol Region command center. “Our crews and partners did everything they could to find them. We’ve kept the family informed at every step during the search, and our thoughts are with them tonight.”
The initial mission to rescue Townsend McKean and her son had turned into one of “recovery,” the family said Friday ahead of the announcement the search would be called off.
Maeve McKean is the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, the grandniece of former President John F. Kennedy, and daughter of former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert F. Kennedy’s eldest child.
“Maeve was vivid,” Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said in a statement to USA TODAY Friday night. “You always knew when she was in a room. Her laughter was loud, unabashed and infectious. She did everything with her full self and her whole heart. She gave the best hugs, sang loudly and out of tune, danced, wrestled, argued, forgave. Maeve shone … The role she treasured most was mom.”
McKean was also the executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative and taught bioethics and human rights as an adjunct professor.
“I am writing here to address the countless people who have loved my wife Maeve and my son Gideon. As many of you have seen, they went missing in the Chesapeake Bay yesterday afternoon,” wrote McKean’s Washington human rights lawyer David McKean on Facebook Friday evening.
He continued: “Despite heroic efforts by the Coast Guard and many state and local authorities, the decision has now been made to suspend the active rescue effort. The search that began yesterday afternoon went on throughout the night and continued all day today. It is now dark again. It has been more than 24 hours, and the chances they have survived are impossibly small. It is clear that Maeve and Gideon have passed away. The search for their recovery will continue, and I hope that that will be successful.”
David McKean further detailed with what he has “come to understand” about the tragedy.
“We were self-quarantining in an empty house owned by Maeve’s mother Kathleen on the Chesapeake Bay, hoping to give our kids more space than we have at home in DC to run around,” he wrote. “Gideon and Maeve were playing kickball by the small, shallow cove behind the house, and one of them kicked the ball into the water. The cove is protected, with much calmer wind and water than in the greater Chesapeake. They got into a canoe, intending simply to retrieve the ball, and somehow got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay. About 30 minutes later they were spotted by an onlooker from land, who saw them far out from shore, and called the police. After that last sighting, they were not seen again. The Coast Guard recovered their canoe, which was capsized and miles away, at approximately 6:30 yesterday evening.”
Kennedy Townsend said in her statement her family’s “hearts are 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. My family thanks all for the outpouring of love and prayers as we grieve and try to bear this devastating loss.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said earlier Friday an “intensive search” had been underway since late Thursday.
“I reached out to and spoke with Lt. Gov. Townsend this morning and on behalf of the people of Maryland, I expressed our most heartfelt sympathies and prayers to her and to her entire family during this difficult time,” Hogan said earlier Friday.
USA TODAY has reached out to her husband.
The search for the two has been carried out by multiple agencies, including the Maryland Natural Resources Police, the Anne Arundel County Fire Department and the U.S. Coast Guard.
According to public statements by those agencies, authorities were alerted Thursday by a call about 4:30 p.m. from a concerned citizen who saw two people in a small craft drifting in the bay in waters off Columbia Beach, Md.
“The preliminary investigation revealed that the pair may have been paddling the canoe from a residence in Shady Side, Md., out into the bay to retrieve a ball and were unable to paddle back to shore,” according to the statement from Maryland Natural Resources Police sent to USA TODAY by spokeswoman Lauren Moses.
“At approximately 7:00 p.m., an overturned canoe matching the approximate description of the one which the pair were in was located,” the statement said.
The overturned craft was found in Herring Bay, several miles south of where it was last seen, according to Capt. Erik Kornmeyer of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department. At about 7:30 p.m., he said, the search was called off because of darkness.
Units from the U.S. Coast Guard continued the search overnight and other rescue agencies returned to the search on Friday morning.
Kornmeyer said the weather in the bay was especially windy on Thursday with significantly rough waters.
The Kennedys’ family history is marred by tragic events. Naval pilot Joseph P. Kennedy, the eldest brother of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, died at age 29 in a plane crash in August 1944 when flying off the coast of Normandy, France, while serving with the U.S. Navy in World War II.
John F. Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, was assassinated in Dallas in 1963 at age 46. Robert F. Kennedy was gunned down in Los Angeles in 1968. John F. Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash with his wife, Carolyn Bessette, in 1999.
Another granddaughter of Robert Kennedy, Saoirse Kennedy Hill, 22, died Aug. 1 of an accidental drug overdose at the Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, adding to a history of tragedies for the famed family.
Saoirse was the only child of Courtney Kennedy Hill, the fifth of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s eleven children and a younger sister of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
Contributing: The Associated Press