Body of RFK's Missing Great-Grandson Found 6 Days After Canoe Accident That Also Killed Boy's Mom
Eight-year-old Gideon McKean was found some 2,000 feet from the body of his mother, Maeve McKean, authorities said
Police say the body of Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean’s 8-year-old son, Gideon, was found Wednesday afternoon — six days after he and his mother vanished into the choppy waters of the Chesapeake Bay in a deadly canoe accident.
McKean’s body had been found two days earlier, on Monday. An air and water search led authorities Gideon’s body about 2,000 feet away from his mother, according to police.
“On behalf our family, I want to share our heartfelt gratitude to Gov. Hogan, Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio and the team of more than 50 professionals from the Department of Natural Resources, Anne Arundel, Charles County and the State Police, who spent these last days searching for our fierce and loving Maeve and Gideon,” McKean’s mom, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Townsend Kennedy, said in a statement.
“They have helped us bring some closure to this terrible loss,” Kennedy said, “and our family will always be grateful for their tireless work.”
The state’s chief medical examiner said separately on Wednesday that McKean had accidentally drowned.
Her body was discovered 2.5 miles from her mom’s waterfront property in Shady Side, Maryland, where she and Gideon had launched their canoe in order to retrieve a stray ball during a game of kickball on Thursday, according to McKean’s husband.
But high winds carried the mother-son duo out into open water of the larger bay where they were also beset by high waves.
“Gideon and Maeve were playing kickball by the small, shallow cove behind the house, and one of them kicked the ball into the water,” David McKean wrote in a Facebook post Friday.
“The cove is protected, with much calmer wind and water than in the greater Chesapeake,” David wrote. “They got into a canoe, intending simply to retrieve the ball, and somehow got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay.”
About 30 minutes after first setting out, they were spotted from shore by an onlooker who called 911. But McKean and Gideon soon vanished from sight and were not seen alive again after first responders arrived on scene.
“It looked like they were being pushed out into the water and were having a hard time returning to shore,” Anne Arundel County Fire Department Capt. Russ Davies told PEOPLE.
Their canoe and paddle were found later on Thursday.
Local meteorologists told PEOPLE the weather in Shady Side was typical for early April — which meant the early spring was the windiest time of year.
Gusts reached as high as 35 mph on Thursday afternoon, when Maeve and Gideon went missing.
“The bay is an odd combination between a lake and a part of the ocean,” Ray Martin, a senior meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Baltimore office, told PEOPLE. “It’s pretty closed off from the ocean, so you don’t see ocean waves or anything like that, but it’s certainly much larger than your average lake. It’s more like a Great Lake, which can have ocean-like conditions sometimes. You can go from days that are very calm to days that are quite stormy. You can get a lot of variation.”
On Friday, David McKean said that the rescue search for the pair had been suspended, with both presumed dead.
“The search that began yesterday afternoon went on throughout the night and continued all day today,” David wrote in his emotional Facebook post. “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,” he added.
“Gideon was 8, but he may as well have been 38,” David wrote of his “deeply compassionate” oldest son.
Tim Shriver — Maeve’s cousin and a nephew of John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy — told PEOPLE he didn’t know Gideon well but from interacting with him at family gatherings he could quickly tell he was “his mother’s little guy.”
“From all accounts, he was his mother’s son, you know? Every bit as gutsy, every bit as daring, every bit as strong, and every bit as kind,” Shriver said.
“He spent hours upstairs reading, learning everything he could about sports, and trying to decipher the mysteries of the stock market,” David wrote in his own tribute. “But he was also incredibly social, athletic, and courageous.”
“For his school picture, he gathered a couple of his many friends to be in the shot with him,” David wrote. “He played every sport he could, complaining to me that even though he was often playing six days a week, there was still that seventh day, and why hadn’t I signed him up for something else.”
“And he was brave,” David continued, “leading his friends in games, standing up to people who he thought were wrong (including his parents), and relishing opportunities to go on adventures with friends, even those he’d just met. It is impossible to sum up Gideon here. I am heartbroken to even have to try. I used to marvel at him as a toddler and worry that he was too perfect to exist in this world. It seems to me now that he was.”
Of wife Maeve — with whom he shared two more children, Gabriella, 7, and Toby, 2 1/2 — David called her his “everything.”
“She was my best friend and my soulmate,” he said. “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.”
Maeve is one of slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughters and a great-niece of former President John F. Kennedy. Her father, David Townsend, is an attorney and professor.