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‘The family must have amazing faith’: Once again the Kennedys mourn, and Cape Codders mourn with them

A neighbor's flag flew at half-staff near the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., on Friday. Saoirse Kennedy Hill, the 22-year-old granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, died of an apparent overdose Thursday at the Kennedy compound, according to her family and law enforcement officials.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

HYANNIS — The news of yet another tragic death in the Kennedy family rekindled many emotions felt here through the decades. Shock, sadness, compassion, and near-disbelief at the scope of one family’s loss mixed and melded Friday from busy Main Street to the narrow streets near the Kennedy compound along Nantucket Sound.

“We can’t imagine how difficult this must be for them,” said Jim Penn, vice president of Puritan Cape Cod, a longtime downtown clothing store. “The family must have amazing faith to deal with these types of tragedies.”

By Friday morning, the news of Saoirse Kennedy Hill’s death, apparently by overdose at the home of her grandmother Ethel Kennedy, had spread throughout this summer resort to residents and tourists alike.


At the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, visitors spoke solemnly about a storied family they feel they know well, and a 22-year-old whose sudden death was a reminder of the Kennedys’ star-crossed history.

“They have endured so much tragedy. We all need to be grieving with them,” said Emily Putze, 59, a visitor from Richmond. “They must have one of the strongest families. We just hope that they’ll weather this.”

Near the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Courtney Clark grew emotional as she spoke of Kennedy Hill’s death. Clark said she is a friend of the family and had watched the young woman grow up.

“I’m heartbroken,” said Clark, who had been biking near the compound. “She was a really lovely, smart person. It’s a tragedy. She’s a good, sweet, vibrant girl.”

The Kennedys are connected to Hyannis Port more than to any other place, dating to family patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy’s purchase of a home on Marchant Avenue in 1928. It was a statement that his Irish-American family had arrived, and over the decades served as the scene of countless gatherings, celebrations, and touch football games.


Grief, too, has visited them often, including the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and the fatal shooting of US Senator Robert Kennedy, a presidential candidate, five years later.

The late president’s son, John F. Kennedy Jr., died off nearby Martha’s Vineyard in 1999 at the controls of a small plane. US senator Edward Kennedy died of brain cancer at the compound 10 years later.

A boy biked past Eugenia Fortes Beach, near the Kennedy family compound, on Friday.Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

Marchant Avenue was closed to traffic Friday, blocked by a police cruiser as dozens of reporters and television camera crews, standing at a distance, kept watch on the property.

Penn said he heard the news of Kennedy Hill’s death early Friday morning.

“I was shocked, sad. Just why does this continue to happen?” he said.

Carol Saunders, the director of the Hyannis Public Library, said Kennedy Hill’s death was as sad as if it had happened to any other family or neighbor in the community.

“But you have the added history, which makes it even more emotional,” said Saunders, who lives in Sandwich and has worked at the library since 1972.

“We revere this family for their contributions to our society and our government and everything,” Saunders said. “But the bottom line is they’re people.”

Saunders said she went to a screening of a documentary made by Rory Kennedy, the president’s niece, just a few weeks ago. During a period for questions, Rory Kennedy told the audience that “this is my hometown,” Saunders recalled.


“If she and other members of the Kennedy family feel that Hyannis Port is their hometown, we feel it as well,” Saunders said.

Outside the JFK Museum, Fay Lynch sat on a bench reading a book called “The Kennedy Women.”

“It’s just a tragic young death,” said Lynch, 50, visiting from Scotland. “They just seem doomed as a family, don’t they?”

Lynch, who remembered that John F. Kennedy Jr. died on her 30th birthday, said she and her husband were at the beach near the Kennedy compound Thursday, but they had no idea anything was amiss.

First responders received a call for help at 2:31 p.m. Thursday. Lynch’s husband later learned of Kennedy Hill’s death on Twitter.

“It was just awful, so sad for the parents and the whole family,” she said.

Linda Fichera reflected on what she called the Kennedy family’s “endless” history of sorrow. Fichera, visiting from New York, said she remembered exactly where she was as a child — recovering from a surgery in the hospital — when President Kennedy was assassinated.

“Every nurse was crying,” recalled Fichera, 69.

The latest death, she said, “just adds to the tragedy.”

“It just seems to be endless,” Fichera added. “They’re still public servants. It just amazes me, their fortitude.”

Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at Kellen Browning can be reached at, or on Twitter at @kellen_browning.