Daughter, grandson of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend presumed dead after going missing in Chesapeake Bay

Chesapeake Bay
Chesapeake BayRicky Carioti/The Washington Post/file

A granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy and her 8-year-old son were presumed dead Friday after they went missing in a canoe in Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, according to a family statement.

Maeve Fahey Kennedy Townsend, 41, and her son, 8-year-old Gideon, were believed to have died as searchers suspended efforts after more than a day of scouring the Chesapeake Bay, Kennedy Townsend’s husband, David McKean, said in a statement posted to Facebook on Friday night.

“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,” McKean said. “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.

Maeve Kennedy Townsend was the daughter of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and her husband, David. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend is the eldest of 11 children born to Robert F. Kennedy and his wife, Ethel.


“The search for their recovery will continue, and I hope that that will be successful," David McKean wrote.

Their presumed deaths come less than a year since the tragic death of another grandchild of Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy.

In August 2019, Saoirse Kennedy Hill , the daughter of Courtney Kennedy and Paul Hill, died after being found unresponsive in the family’s compound in Hyannis Port. Her cause of death was determined to be a toxic mixture of methadone, alcohol, and prescription drugs, according to her death certificate.

Like Saoirse Kennedy Hill, Maeve Kennedy Townsend attended Boston College. Saoirse had been slated to begin her senior year at BC last fall.


McKean said his wife and son had gone out in the canoe Thursday to retrieve a kickball that had gone into a “small, shallow cove” behind Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s home on the bay. The family was staying there, he said, while quarantining for the coronavirus pandemic and “hoping to give our kids more space than we have at home in DC to run around.”

About a half-hour after getting into the canoe, he said, “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.”

McKean said his wife “was my everything.”

“She was my best friend and my soulmate,” he continued. “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 also remembered his son, who he said "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,” McKean continued. “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.”


Earlier Friday, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan expressed sympathy to Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and her family.

“On behalf of the people of Maryland, I express our most heartfelt sympathies, and our prayers to her and her entire family during this difficult time,” Hogan said.

John R. Ellement of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.