Saying her family’s hearts are “crushed,” former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend acknowledged Friday night the loss of her daughter and grandson in a canoeing accident in the Chesapeake Bay.
“With profound sadness, I share the news that the search for my beloved daughter Maeve and grandson Gideon has turned from rescue to recovery," Townsend said in a statement.
Maeve McKean, 41, and son, Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean, 8, had been seen struggling to return to shore in a canoe and were last sighted 10 miles south of Annapolis near Herring Bay, authorities said.
The former lieutenant governor, the daughter of the late Robert F. Kennedy, called her daughter “vivid.”
“You always knew when she was in a room,” she said in her statement. “Her laughter was loud, unabashed, and infectious. She did everything with her full self and her whole heart. She gave the best hugs, sang loudly and out of tune, danced, wrestled, argued, forgave.”
Her grandson, “like his mom, was a star athlete who loved soccer, golf, and running,” Townsend said. “He took after his parents in the most extraordinary ways. He loved riddles, math, chess, and adventures.”
Earlier in the day, through a spokesman, the family asked for privacy and prayers.
“At this time, our family asks for privacy and that everyone keep Maeve and Gideon in their prayers,” said Alan Fleischmann, a spokesman for the family and Maeve McKean’s godfather, in a statement.
Anne Arundel County fire officials say a concerned citizen called 911 around 4:30 p.m. Thursday to report that he saw the woman and her son in a small canoe or kayak from the Columbia Beach community pier.
Maryland Natural Resources Police believe the pair may have been paddling the canoe from a residence in Shady Side into the bay to retrieve a ball but were unable to paddle back to shore. High northerly winds had caused choppy waves on the bay.
Marine units from local law enforcement and the U.S. Coast Guard had been searching the Chesapeake Bay by boat and helicopter.
Natural Resources Police say an overturned canoe matching the description of the one believed to be used by the pair was found around 7 p.m. Anne Arundel fire officials say the vessel was found east of Rockhold Creek in Deale.
Later Friday night, the Coast Guard said it suspended its search after 26 hours. Its personnel had searched a combined total of 3,658 square miles over air, sea, and land, the Coast Guard said.
“This was a difficult case, and even more difficult to make the decision to suspend the search,” said Cmdr. Matthew Fine, deputy sector commander at the Sector Maryland-National Capitol Region command center. “Our crews and partners did everything they could to find them. We’ve kept the family informed at every step during the search, and our thoughts are with them tonight.”
Queen Anne’s County police, Anne Arundel County police, Maryland Natural Resources Police and Maryland State Police assisted in the search.
In addition to Gideon, Maeve McKean and her husband David have two other children: Gabriella, 7, and Toby, 2.
She is a granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy, the former U.S. attorney general and New York senator who was former president John F. Kennedy’s brother. Her mother, the eldest of Robert and Ethel Kennedy’s 11 children, lost a bid for Maryland governor in 2002.
Tragedy has famously followed the Kennedy family over the years, including the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and the 1999 plane crash death of John F. Kennedy Jr. Townsend is named for another Kennedy sibling who died in 1948 after her plane crashed in fog in France.
McKean works as a public health and human rights lawyer and executive director of Georgetown University’s Global Health Initiative, a university-wide research and service program.
She recently urged people on social media to take the coronavirus seriously, and had encouraged service projects for “fellow Americans and global citizens during the COVID-19 crisis.”
A week ago, McKean posted a picture on Twitter of her 8-year-old son. As part of his schooling from home, he was shown smiling as he watched a livestream of basketball star Stephen Curry asking coronavirus questions of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Her tweet bore the hashtag “ParentingInAPandemic.”
McKean’s sister, Dr. Kerry Kennedy Meltzer, is a resident physician who has been working with COVID-19 patients in New York City.
McKean was also a Peace Corps volunteer in Mozambique before serving on the staff of U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat. She worked in the administration of President Barack Obama as a human rights adviser.
“Our Maeve devoted her life to helping society’s most vulnerable,” her mother said in her statement, adding that she had “pursued a career in law to give voice to the voiceless.”
Officials connected to McKean’s Georgetown University program were unavailable.
Gov. Larry Hogan said during a news conference Friday that he called Townsend on behalf of the people of Maryland.
"I expressed our most heartfelt sympathies and prayers to her and to her entire family during this difficult time,” Hogan said.
In a statement, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said news of the search “hit me and my family hard this morning.”
“We are holding Kathleen and her family in the light, and holding our own loved ones a little closer as we reflect on their pain and their loss,” Pittman said.
Andrew Garte, 63, an avid sailor and kayaker who lives on the West River with the bay right around the corner, said bay conditions Thursday were dangerous for a number of reasons.
The water was frigid and there was a “blasting” wind out of the north, causing “steep, closely paced waves," conditions in which it would be easy for any small vessel to capsize, Garte said. “This is dry suit weather.”
At 5 p.m. Thursday, the water temperature at the Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse, a few miles northeast of Shady Side in the bay, was 51 degrees and the wind was blowing at approximately 30 mph, according to data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay buoys. Overnight, the water temperature dropped.
“All kayakers have trouble in that kind of stuff,” Garte said.
While recreational boating is prohibited under Hogan’s coronavirus-related shutdown orders, forms of exercise including kayaking and paddleboarding are permitted.
Garte noted Hogan’s stay-at-home order meant there were “very few eyes” on the water. Particularly with the unfriendly water conditions, “it can look serene but deliver disaster quickly.”
Officials are asking anyone with information to please contact the Maryland Natural Resources Police at 800-628-9944 or VHF Channel 16.
Baltimore Sun reporters Jean Marbella, McKenna Oxenden and Kevin Rector contributed to this article