ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — A rescue mission turned into a recovery mission Saturday for the bodies of 40-year-old Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her 8-year-old son Gideon who were last seen drifting away in a yellow canoe in the Chesapeake Bay Thursday afternoon.
McKean is the daughter of former Maryland lieutenant governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy.
Her husband David said his wife and son were playing kickball in the backyard of a home owned by the former lieutenant governor when the ball was kicked into the small cove. David said the cove was protected with much calmer wind and water than the greater Chesapeake.
“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. 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 [Thursday] evening,” David McKean said in a Facebook post Friday.
Weather conditions were blustery Thursday with wind gusts between 30 to 35 mph. However, there weren’t any special warnings for boaters issued.
Sandy Shore resident, Roland, said he remembered the water Thursday being rough, with waves more than three feet high.
Roland told WJZ, for people who don’t normally live here, it’s easy to misjudge the waters in the Bay.
“They weren’t familiar with the area. They could have got out of the canoe and walked back to land if they knew it but it just didn’t happen that way, unfortunately,” he said Saturday.
The canoe was recovered, capsized and miles away from where the two were last seen.
A search led by the Coast Guard and Maryland Natural Resources Police continued Friday with some hope for finding them, but the rescue mission was called off Friday night.
As of Saturday morning, dive teams and several other agencies looked to recover their bodies. They said they will resume their efforts Sunday.
“Vessels are underway today conducting surface search and side scan sonar operations in the Chesapeake Bay around the area between where the subjects were last seen and their canoe was recovered. Anne Arundel County Police Aviation and Maryland State Police K9 and aviation are also assisting with search efforts,” DNR said in a statement.
David shared memories of his wife and son on Facebook Friday.
“Gideon was 8, but he may as well have been 38. He was deeply compassionate, declining to sing children’s songs if they contained a hint of animals or people being treated cruelly. He hated if I [accidentally] let a bad word slip. He spent hours upstairs reading, learning everything he could about sports, and trying to decipher the mysteries of the stock market. But he was also incredibly social, athletic, and courageous,” David wrote in part.
“Maeve turned 40 in November, and she was my everything. She was my best friend and my soulmate. I have already thought many times over today that I need to remember to tell Maeve about something that’s happening. I am terrified by the idea that this will fade over time. You could hear Maeve’s laugh a block away—and she laughed a lot. She was magical—with endless energy that she would put toward inventing games for our children, taking on another project at work or in our community, and spending time with our friends,” he continued.
Maeve’s mother also issued a statement Friday night:
“With profound sadness, I share the news that the search for my beloved daughter Maeve and grandson Gideon has turned from rescue to recovery.”
“Our 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.”
McKean, a public health and human rights lawyer, was the executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative in Washington D.C. where the family resides. She married her husband David in 2009 and they have two other children, 7-year-old Gabriella and 2-year-old Toby.
“At seven, Gabriella is heartbroken, but she amazes me with her maturity and grace. Toby is two-and-a-half, so he’s still his usual magical and goofy self. I know soon he will start to ask for Maeve and Gideon. It breaks my heart that he will not get to have them as a mother and brother,” David said of how his other children are coping with the loss.
Over 1,000 people had left their condolences on David’s Facebook page as of Saturday morning. David shared family photos of Maeve and Gideon.
John T. Monahan, JD, Senior Advisor to the President of Georgetown University, issued the following statement on behalf of his longtime colleague:
“The Georgetown community is heartsick at the loss of our beloved colleague Maeve McKean who, along with her young son Gideon, died in a tragic boating accident on Thursday in Maryland.
“A graduate of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service and Law School, Maeve was a brilliant, passionate, and energetic advocate for human rights and social justice, especially for women and girls and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS. These remained her passions throughout her career including her public service in global health diplomacy at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of State.
“As executive director of Georgetown’s Global Health Initiative, Maeve was a master connector who brought together faculty and students across disciplines and schools in order to advance our shared mission for improving health and advancing justice, particularly for those left out or left behind.
“Maeve also brought her characteristic enthusiasm to engaging, inspiring, and mentoring a new generation of Georgetown global health students through her teaching in the classroom and her leadership of an innovative fellowship program for aspiring leaders.
“Our community expresses its deepest condolences to Maeve’s family during this time of loss.”
In a press conference Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan expressed his heartfelt sympathies for the family.
“On behalf of the people of Maryland I expressed our heartfelt sympathies and prayers during this difficult time,” Hogan said of a conversation he had with former lieutenant governor Townsend Friday afternoon.
An update: the body of Maeve McKean was recovered on Monday. The body of Gideon McKean was recovered on Wednesday.