Chesapeake Bay recovery mission resumes for Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s daughter, grandson

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BALTIMORE — Maryland Natural Resources Police resumed on Saturday efforts to recover former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend’s missing daughter and grandson, who were last seen struggling in a canoe in the Chesapeake Bay on Thursday.

Townsend said in a statement Friday night that the search had “turned from rescue to recovery.”

Maeve McKean, 40, and son, Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean, 8, were last seen about 10 miles south of Annapolis near Herring Bay. Authorities said the pair’s canoe was found overturned at about 7 p.m. Friday, east of Rockhold Creek in Deale.

Maeve McKean works as a public health and human rights lawyer and executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiative, a university-wide research and service program. In addition to Gideon, she and her husband, David, have two other children: Gabriella, 7, and Toby, 2.

In a post on his Facebook page, David McKean wrote, “the chances they have survived are impossibly small.”

“There has been an overwhelming outpouring of love and support from so many people,” he wrote. “Given who Maeve and Gideon were, I am not the least surprised.”

Maeve and Gideon were playing kickball near a cove on Townsend’s property when one of them kicked the ball into the cove. While trying to retrieve it in a canoe, they “somehow got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay,” David McKean wrote.

Natural Resources Police said they were working with the Anne Arundel County Fire Department and police aviation unit, the Maryland State Police K-9 and aviation units and the Charles County Sheriff’s Office Dive Team to continue the “recovery effort” on Saturday.

“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,” with the aviation and K-9 units “also assisting with search efforts,” Natural Resources Police said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it had called off its rescue mission Friday.

Maeve McKean is the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, the former U.S. attorney general and New York senator who was former president John F. Kennedy’s brother. Tragedy has famously followed the extended Kennedy family, with both Robert and John Kennedy having been assassinated, and multiple family members dying in other sudden accidents.

The Coast Guard said it had searched a combined total of 3,658 square miles over air, sea and land.

“This was a difficult case, and even more difficult to make the decision to suspend the search,” Cmdr. Matthew Fine, deputy sector commander at the Sector Maryland-National Capitol Region command center, said Friday. “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.”

In a statement Saturday, John T. Monahan, a senior adviser to Georgetown University President John J. DeGioia and longtime colleague and friend of McKean, said the university community was “heartsick” over her and her son’s disappearance.

Monahan called McKean a “brilliant, passionate, and energetic advocate for human rights and social justice, especially for women and girls and communities impacted by HIV/AIDS.”

“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,” he said.

Maeve McKean grew up in a Ruxton home and attended Baltimore County schools before enrolling at St. Paul’s School for Girls, where she graduated in 1997. She spent her college years at Boston College and spent time studying at Trinity College in Dublin.

A 2009 New York Times article quoted her father, David L. Townsend, who described her as “always playful, a kind of Annie Oakley character.” The article called her a “free spirit” and said that after college she joined the Peace Corps and went to Madagascar.

Maeve was later working in the district office of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California and received a letter from David requesting a summer internship. The story described their 2009 wedding, to which she wore “sparkly sneakers under an elegant strapless Italian-designed silk and organza wedding gown.” She got a tattoo of a small apple because she liked eating apples.

The couple married at a ceremony at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. In his Facebook post, David McKean wrote that Maeve “was my everything. She was my best friend and my soulmate. … She was the brightest light I have ever known.

“Gideon was 8, but he may as well have been 38. … 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.”

Townsend, in her own statement, called her daughter “vivid.”

“You always knew when she was in a room,” she said. “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.”

Her grandson, “like his mom, was a star athlete who loved soccer, golf, and running,” Townsend said. “He took after his parents in the most extraordinary ways. He loved riddles, math, chess, and adventures.”


(Baltimore Sun Media reporters Lillian Reed, Jeff Barker, Alex Mann, Jean Marbella, McKenna Oxenden, Nathan Ruiz and Jacques Kelly contributed to this article.)


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