"An intensive search has been underway since late yesterday," Maryland's governor said Friday

By Adam Carlson
April 03, 2020 04:14 PM
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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty

The message was short and urgent.

“Please pray my sister and nephew,” Meaghan Townsend Birdzell wrote on Facebook on Friday afternoon, “they are missing.”

Less than 24 hours earlier, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her young son Gideon had vanished into the Chesapeake Bay while canoeing on Thursday afternoon off the coast of Shady Side, Maryland.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources police said in a statement that “the preliminary investigation revealed that the pair may have been paddling the canoe from a residence … out into the bay to retrieve a ball and were unable to paddle back to shore.”

David McKean, Maeve’s husband, told The Washington Post that she and Gideon had “popped into a canoe” to go and retrieve a ball that had landed in the water while their family was at her mom’s waterfront property in Shady Side.

“They just got farther out than they could handle and couldn’t get back in,” David told the Post.

The canoe and a paddle were soon recovered on Thursday, but both mother and son remained missing as of Friday, according to authorities.

It was the latest tragic turn for the country’s most famous political family, whose history includes the highest highs and lowest lows.

In a brief statement to the Post, the first outlet to confirm that Maeve and her son were missing, a family spokesman said: “At this time, our family asks for privacy and that everyone keep Maeve and Gideon in their prayers.”

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Maeve’s uncle and his father’s namesake, echoed that in a brief Instagram post of his own, writing Friday: “Please pray for this family.”

“Thank you for your kind words of comfort and prayers for Maeve and Gideon,” Maeve’s aunt Kerry Kennedy wrote on her own Instagram. “Their light shines bright and we hold them close in our hearts.”

David McKean, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and family attend the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights’ Ripple of Hope Gala & Auction in December
Mike Pont/Getty

Maeve is the daughter of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was Maryland’s lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003, and David Lee Townsend, an attorney and professor. She is one of slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughters and a great-niece of former President John F. Kennedy.

At a coronavirus briefing on Friday afternoon, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan confirmed Maeve and Gideon’s disappearance.

“An intensive search has been underway since late yesterday,” he said.

Hogan said he had spoken with Maeve’s mother on Friday morning “and on behalf of the people of Maryland, I expressed our most heartfelt sympathies.”

Maeve most recently has been serving as the executive director of Georgetown’s Global Health Initiative, a “university-wide platform for supporting research, teaching, and service in global health.”

She previously worked in the State Department’s global AIDS program under former President Barack Obama as well as in the Department of Health and Human Services focusing on human rights, according to the Post.

Husband David is also a lawyer, the Post reported. Gideon is their oldest child.