Hypothermia was also a complication, officials said Monday

By Adam Carlson
April 13, 2020 05:30 PM
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Robert F. Kennedy‘s great-grandson Gideon McKean accidentally drowned with his mother after their canoe was lost to the choppy, chilly water of the Chesapeake Bay on April 2, PEOPLE confirms. Hypothermia was also a complication.

The cause and manner of death were released Monday by a spokesman for the state’s chief medical examiner, who has been handling the case.

Eight-year-old Gideon first set out with mom Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, 40, on the afternoon of April 2 hoping to quickly retrieve a ball that had landed in the water during their game of kickball, the family has said.

The weather was clear and cool and partly sunny, but out on the bay the wind was strong and the waves were rough.

The water was likely chillier than the air, which was in the upper 50s.

Rather than easily returning to shore, Maeve and Gideon, who were not wearing life jackets, were sucked from the calm cove next to their house further and further from shore. The family had been social distancing at an empty waterfront home owned by Maeve’s mother, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.

Mother and son were spotted not long after setting out by a concerned onlooker on a nearby community beach pier. He called 911 and first responders on the scene minutes later also saw the canoe out in the water before it slipped from view.

Their capsized boat and paddle were found a few hours later on April 2.

Maeve’s body was found on April 6 and Gideon’s body was found Wednesday, both more than two miles from Townsend’s house in Shady Side, Maryland, on the bay. Officials previously said Maeve had also accidentally drowned.

David and Maeve McKean with their family in December
Mike Pont/Getty
From left: Maeve McKean and son Gideon
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“Our hearts are crushed, yet we shall try to summon the grace of God and what strength we have to honor the hope, energy and passion that Maeve and Gideon set forth into the world,” Townsend said in a statement last week. “My family thanks all for the outpouring of love and prayers as we grieve and try to bear this devastating loss.”

In his own statement, Maeve’s father, professor David Lee Townsend, said that “for 40 years we were graced by Maeve’s high heart and wisdom that caught fire at need and made her beautiful and fierce, sudden and laughing.”

While social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic prevented an in-person memorial, the extended Kennedy clan has gathered on video calls to mourn and pray.

A human rights lawyer and former Peace Corps volunteer, Maeve most recently served as executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative.

In a tender and wrenching Facebook post sharing news of their deaths, Maeve’s husband, David McKean, wrote that she was his “everything.”

“I have already thought many times over today that I need to remember to tell Maeve about something that’s happening,” he wrote. “I am terrified by the idea that this will fade over time.”

Oldest son Gideon, his dad wrote, “was 8, but he may as well have been 38.”

“It is impossible to sum up Gideon here. I am heartbroken to even have to try,” David continued. “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.”

On Saturday, the extended family gathered remotely for a video memorial where Natasha Bedingfield, Kenny Chesney and Melissa Etheridge performed.

“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,” one family member 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.”

• With reporting by WENDY GROSSMAN KANTOR