Robert F. Kennedy's granddaughter and her 8-year-old son have been presumed dead following a canoe accident on Thursday

By Liz McNeil and Maria Pasquini
April 04, 2020 02:00 PM
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Maeve Kennedy
Credit: Mike Pont/Getty Images

The Kennedy family is mourning the deaths of Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, the granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, and her 8-year-old son Gideon.

As the Coast Guard suspended its search for the pair on Friday, one day after the pair went missing in a canoe accident in Maryland, Maeve’s husband, David McKean, shared the tragic news that the pair had been presumed dead. “It is clear that Maeve and Gideon have passed away,” he wrote in an emotional Facebook message.

A close family source tells PEOPLE a gathering following news of their deaths will be “difficult“ at this time.

“Because of social distancing it will be difficult to gather everyone together,” the family source says, adding that typically “the community comes together, the family and friends so everyone can talk through things and share memories.”

“They were so young and they had their whole lives ahead,” the family source adds of the late mother-son pair.

After the Kennedy family has endured decades of loss, the family source also notes how difficult the recent deaths are for family matriarch Ethel Kennedy, now 91.

“It’s never-ending for her. She has lost her husband, two of her children, her nephew John and now two [of] her grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, it’s unimaginable,” the family source says.

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Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and son Gideon
| Credit: Facebook

As David shared the tragic news that his wife and young child had been presumed dead, he also offered additional insight into the canoe accident, which occurred on April 2, at Maeve’s mother’s waterfront property in Shady Side, Maryland.

“We were self-quarantining in an empty house owned by Maeve’s mother Kathleen on the Chesapeake Bay, hoping to give our kids more space than we have at home in DC to run around,” he explained. “Gideon and Maeve were playing kickball by the small, shallow cove behind the house, and one of them kicked the ball into the water.”

As Maeve, 40, and Gideon got into a canoe to retrieve the lost ball, they “somehow got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay.”

The pair were last spotted about 30 minutes later by an onlooker on the shore, who alerted the police. There was no sign of Maeve or Gideon when the Coast Guard found the canoe capsized miles away around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Maeve Kennedy
Ethel Kennedy, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her mother, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend
| Credit: Wendy Maeda/Getty Images

David went on to give heartfelt tributes of both his wife, whom he called his “everything” and his “deeply compassionate” boy.

“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,” he wrote, adding that their 7-year-old daughter Gabrielle was “heartbroken” while their 2 ½-year-old son Toby was “still his usual magical and goofy self.”

“I know soon he will start to ask for Maeve and Gideon. It breaks my heart that he will not get to have them as a mother and brother,” he added.

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Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and son Gideon

In a statement to PEOPLE, Maeve’s mother, former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, confirmed that “the search for my beloved daughter Maeve and grandson Gideon has turned from rescue to recovery.” (Maeve’s father, David Lee Townsend, is an attorney and professor.)

“Maeve was vivid. You always knew when she was in a room. Her laughter was loud, unabashed, and infectious. She did everything with her full self and her whole heart,” Kathleen said of her daughter, who was also “devoted her life to helping society’s most vulnerable.”

“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. My family thanks all for the outpouring of love and prayers as we grieve and try to bear this devastating loss.”