"I tried to wave to them, but they’re so far out that I guess they couldn’t see me," the man told the dispatcher about Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her son Gideon

By Adam Carlson
April 13, 2020 12:44 PM
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A man on Columbia Beach in Shady Side, Maryland, grew concerned on April 2 when he spotted what he thought were two kids in a yellow canoe being blown down the Chesapeake Bay by the wind without life jackets on.

He called 911.

“I tried to wave to them, but they’re so far out that I guess they couldn’t see me,” the man told the dispatcher about Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her son Gideon, whom he had both mistaken for children, according to the 911 audio released on Monday.

The man said they were “trying to paddle to a ball and then the wind kicked up,” sending them further south. “They just went by us,” he said.

He was bothered by what he saw. Asked by the dispatcher if he thought the people in the canoe were having an emergency, he said, “I think so.”

The call came in at 4:30 p.m. and first responders arrived at the pier at Columbia Beach within five or six minutes, where they also saw McKean, 40, and Gideon, 8, drifting out in the bay before disappearing from view.

“Our first arriving units had eyes on the canoe, but it was far off from the pier,” Anne Arundel County Fire Department Capt. Russ Davies previously told PEOPLE. “They watched it when it went out of sight. At that time, both people were still on it.”

Mother and son were not seen alive again. Their capsized canoe and paddle were found that night. Their bodies were found days later. McKean accidentally drowned; Gideon’s cause of death was still pending.

Maeve McKean and son Gideon with her husband, David McKean (top right)
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David and Maeve McKean with their family in December
Mike Pont/Getty

According to authorities and McKean’s husband, she and her son had set out in their canoe that day from behind their house just north of Columbia Beach to quickly get a lost ball that landed in the cove during a kickball game.

The family had gone to an empty waterfront residence owned by McKean’s mother to isolate amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The weather on April 2 was clear and cool, only partly cloudy, but the winds were strong and the waves in the bay could be rough.

“The small, shallow cove” where his wife and oldest son had been playing “is protected, with much calmer wind and water than in the greater Chesapeake,” David McKean wrote in a Facebook post on April 3.

“Somehow [they] got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay,” he wrote.

Because of the social distancing required during the coronavirus outbreak, loved ones gathered remotely by video call for a memorial on Saturday. Natasha Bedingfield, Kenny Chesney and Melissa Etheridge performed for the more than 3,000 attendees.

“Maeve’s sister Kat and her husband, Tyson, worked directly with Zoom’s tech department to figure out how to make this all happen,” said Mark Bailey, the husband to Rory Kennedy, who was Maeve’s aunt.

“While we’re not in the same space, we can’t hug or kiss, we’re not physically with each other, they’re still with us. And it means so much to us to have you here with us, too,” Bailey said. “And so through this nutty Zoom call, we’re going to share and touch and visit and shine a light on this love for Maeve and Gideon that holds us all together.”

• Reporting by WENDY GROSSMAN KANTOR