"They just got farther out than they could handle and couldn’t get back in," her husband told The Washington Post

By Adam Carlson
April 03, 2020 01:41 PM
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David and Maeve McKean and their family in December
Mike Pont/Getty

Robert F. Kennedy‘s granddaughter Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her young son Gideon are missing, according to her husband, after a canoeing accident in the Chesapeake Bay on Thursday afternoon.

David McKean told The Washington Post that Maeve 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, Maryland.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources police said in a statement that a 40-year-old woman and an 8-year-old boy went missing Thursday afternoon from that same location after they “appeared to be overtaken by the strong winds” while canoeing.

“They just got farther out than they could handle and couldn’t get back in,” David, 38, told the Post.

Reached by PEOPLE, a desolate-sounding David declined to comment further, saying the available info on the incident had already been reported.

“At this time, our family asks for privacy and that everyone keep Maeve and Gideon in their prayers,” a family spokesman said in a statement to the Post.

The DNR police said “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.”

Maeve is the daughter of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who was Maryland’s lieutenant governor from 1995 to 2003, and David Townsend, an attorney and professor.

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.

The canoe and a paddle were recovered Thursday night, according to authorities.

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.”

It was the latest tragic turn for a clan that has endured decades of loss alongside their history-making triumphs: assassinations and fatal accidents as well as a multiplicity of political victories and personal good fortunes — blissful marriages and a deeply rooted family tree of dozens of children, grand and great-grandchildren.

Last summer, Maeve’s cousin Saoirse Kennedy Hill overdosed at the family compound while staying with matriarch Ethel Kennedy, now 91. Saoirse was 22.

From left: Rep. Joe Kennedy III greets Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean greets during a rally in June 2018
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty

Who Is RFK’s Granddaughter Maeve?

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 is a Georgetown alumnae, having earned both her law degree and a master’s degree in international negotiations and conflict resolution in 2009.

“Her work focuses on the intersection of global health and human rights,” according to a brief Georgetown bio.

Before that, she 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.

Early in her post-college years, Maeve served in the Peace Corps, traveling to Mozambique, and met her future husband while working in California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office in the early 2000s, The New York Times previously reported.

As she told Glamour in 2008: “Four years ago … I met a UC Berkeley lit major named Dave McKean, who was kind, brilliant and hilarious. He went off to the Far East to teach English just when I was moving to Washington. At the end of his school year, I bought a plane ticket to China, and we traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. You really get to know each other when you both have food poisoning in Cambodia.”

“Now I’m at Georgetown, getting both a law degree and international relations M.A., he’s at American U. law school, and we are head over heels in love,” she continued then, playfully noting: “Like Brangelina, we sometimes sign our letters ‘Maevid.’ He just asked me to marry him!”

Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean in 2018
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

Maeve’s father told the Times in 2009 that, as a girl, she was “always playful, a kind of Annie Oakley character.”

Reflecting on her family name, Maeve told Glamour that people were quick to misunderstand her lot in life.

“People think, because I’m a Kennedy, I’m extremely wealthy and don’t flaunt it,” she said with a laugh. “I have a great name, but by the time you get to the fourth generation, the money’s run out. We’re fortunate compared to the average American, but to think I’m a trust fund kid — so not true!”

Only two generations removed from America’s most famous trio of political scions — former President John F. Kennedy and Sens. Ted and Robert Kennedy — Maeve told Glamour she had her own civic goals.

“There’s no question that I want to go into public service, but my friends and I talk a lot about the question, How can you go into public service with debts like the ones we’re racking up?” she said then. “I’ll be leaving law school with $150,000 in student loans to repay. Human rights jobs have starting salaries of $35,000. It’s up to us to find a way to keep doing good while going into our chosen careers.”