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Autopsy conducted on Saoirse Kennedy Hill shows no signs of trauma

Ethel Kennedy (left) and Courtney Kennedy Hill, mother of Saoirse Kennedy Hill, returned to the Kennedy family compound on Friday.
Ethel Kennedy (left) and Courtney Kennedy Hill, mother of Saoirse Kennedy Hill, returned to the Kennedy family compound on Friday.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

As friends and family expressed their grief Friday, authorities announced that an autopsy found no signs of trauma on the body of the 22-year-old granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy who died of an apparent drug overdose the day before.

Authorities said they were continuing to investigate the death of Saoirse Kennedy Hill. She had been found unresponsive at the Kennedy compound Thursday afternoon, and later pronounced dead at Cape Cod Hospital.

“The cause and manner of death are pending the toxicology report,” according to a statement from Cape and Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe’s office.

Kennedy Hill, a Boston College student, was remembered Friday as a courageous advocate for people with depression.

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Maria Shriver, the daughter of Eunice Kennedy Shriver and Sargent Shriver, posted a message on Twitter, saying that “a brave young woman left our world yesterday” and that the loss “left a gaping hole in the lives of all of those who loved her dearly.”

“Life is fragile and heartbreaking,” Shriver wrote. “It turns upside down in a minute. Love your children, hold them tight. Love your family, hold them close. Love your friends, keep them near. Be gentle with others, as so many are fragile and struggling.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Kennedy Hill’s uncle, said in a post on Instagram that she had been like his own daughter and like a sister to his children.

“Saoirse was fierce, both in her love for her family and yearning for justice,” he wrote. “A fearless adventurer, she inspired curiosity and daring in her friends. But her greatest gift was to find humor in everything and to give us all the gift of her laughter — and our own. The gaping hole that she leaves in our family is a wound too large to ever heal.”

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Patrick J. Kennedy, the son of Edward M. and Joan Kennedy and a former Rhode Island congressman, wrote in a Twitter post, “Saoirse will always remain in our hearts. She is loved and will be deeply missed.”

Patrick Kennedy, an outspoken advocate for treatment of substance abuse and mental health, included a link to an opinion piece about her struggle with depression that Kennedy Hill had published in her school newspaper in February 2016 as a senior at Deerfield Academy.

“Saoirse’s sincere account of her depression is a powerful reminder of how so many people suffer alone and feel isolated,” he wrote. “I am proud Saoirse was able to be open and tell her story.”

In her essay, Kennedy Hill described an already years-long struggle with depression, and a traumatic incident that led her to a suicide attempt.

“Deerfield is one of the top educational institutions in the country, yet no one seems to know how to talk about mental illness,” she wrote. “People talk about cancer freely; why is it so difficult to discuss the effects of depression, bipolar, anxiety, or schizophrenic disorders? Just because the illness may not be outwardly visible doesn’t mean the person suffering from it isn’t struggling.”

David Thiel, Deerfield’s assistant head of school for strategy and planning, said Kennedy Hill was “bright and kind.”

“We are all deeply saddened by the news,” he said. “I can tell you that she was a strong, selfless advocate for other people. She was courageous in writing and speaking about deeply personal issues.”

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Kennedy Hill had gone on to enroll at BC and was scheduled to graduate next year. .

Joy Moore, vice president for student affairs, issued a statement of condolence posted Friday to the college’s website.

Moore said Kennedy Hill was a communications major and “a gifted student who aspired to work in the communications field and contribute to the national dialogue through TV, radio, music, and film.”

In the New York offices of Irish America magazine, a news photograph hangs on the wall of editor and cofounder Patricia Harty. It shows Kennedy Hill shouting during the women’s march in Washington in January 2017. A slip of paper written by Harty, taped to the photo, reads: “Saoirse has the DNA to save us all right now.”

“I keep this photo of her on a wall in my office directly within my sight line to remind myself to be braver about speaking out about issues,” Harty, her godmother, said in an e-mail. “Growing up in Ireland we always hid any kind of struggle with anxiety or depression — you were supposed to just tough it out. And that toughing it out has led us to having one of the highest suicide rates in Europe.”

Kennedy Hill’s father, Paul Michael Hill, was one of four people falsely convicted in the 1974 Irish Republican Army bombings of two pubs. Hill lived with Harty for a time after he was released from prison three decades ago, she said, and was the one who sent her the photo.

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Hill later married Courtney Kennedy, and the couple had Kennedy Hill in 1997. The child had two christenings, one on a yacht off of Greece and the other on Cape Cod, Harty said in a telephone interview.

Kennedy Hill was “such a beautiful, lively young child,” she said.

Harty said Kennedy Hill’s godfather was her uncle, Michael Kennedy, who died in a skiing accident in Colorado on New Year’s Eve 1997.

“They’ve just had so much tragedy over the years,” Harty said. “Sometimes it just seems unbearable. This is just unbearable. I just can’t get my head around that Saoirse is gone.”


Travis Andersen, John R. Ellement, and Danny McDonald of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Sofia Saric contributed to this report. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi. Emily Sweeney can be reached at esweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.