Kennedy Family Members Identified As Missing Boaters In Chesapeake Bay

April 4, 2020
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The missing canoers last seen in Chesapeake Bay Thursday evening have been identified as Robert F. Kennedy’s granddaughter, Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, and her 8-year-old son, Gideon. 

David McKean confirmed his wife and son disappeared on Thursday afternoon while in a canoe on the Chesapeake Bay.

The Washington Post quoted McKean as saying the family had gathered at a waterfront house owned by his wife’s mother, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, in Shady Side, Md.

At about 4 p.m., children were kicking a ball back and forth in a yard and the ball went into the water.

He said his wife and son “popped into a canoe to chase it down. They just got farther out than they could handle and couldn’t get back in.”

At a news conference Friday afternoon, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said he had reached out to Kennedy Townsend and “expressed our most heartfelt sympathy and prayers to her and her entire family at this difficult time.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Coast Guard told the Washington Post that the wind in that part of the bay was at 26 knots — about 30 mph — Thursday afternoon, with waves two to three feet high.

McKean said he has been told the search is continuing. He would not say whether the canoe has been found, but the Maryland Natural Resources Police said Friday that an overturned canoe matching the description of the one went missing was recovered.

McKean is executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative. Her mother served as Maryland’s lieutenant governor; McKean is also a granddaughter of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and grandniece of former president John F. Kennedy.

Capt. Erik Kornmeyer, a spokesman for the Anne Arundel County Fire Department, said in a statement that a concerned person called authorities around 4:30 p.m. Thursday to say he saw the canoe from the Columbia Beach pier.

According to the Coast Guard, the caller said that the boaters were “seen struggling to return to shore in a canoe” near Herring Bay and then not seen again.

Crews on boat and helicopters engaged in the search until dark Thursday and resumed Friday morning. By Friday afternoon, the Coast Guard said 2,275 square miles had been covered.

“At this time, our family asks for privacy and that everyone keep Maeve and Gideon in their prayers,” family spokesman Alan Fleischmann said in a statement. Maeve is Fleischmann’s goddaughter.

McKean is president of the Parent Teacher Association at the Capitol Hill Cluster School. Principals Elena Bell and Kristofer Comeforo sent a letter to families saying they are “deeply saddened by this news.”

“There will be virtual opportunities for the school community to receive support by clinical social workers, counselors, and school psychologists early next week,” they said.

A virtual school auction planned for Friday night was postponed.

McKean graduated from Boston College and Georgetown University with a joint degree in law and international conflict resolution. She served in the Peace Corps in Mozambique, coming home to help with her mother’s 2002 campaign for governor. She went on to work for U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein in California — where she met her future husband. Gideon is their first child; the pair of human rights lawyers named him after a Supreme Court case ordering states to pay for defense attorneys for the poor.

During the Obama administration McKean worked in the State Department’s global AIDS program and on human rights in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Last year, she and her mother spoke out openly against her uncle Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s anti-vaccine advocacy.

“We stand behind him in his ongoing fight to protect our environment,” they wrote in a Politico column. “However, on vaccines he is wrong.”

Last month, she was one of hundreds of public health and experts who signed onto a letter urging Vice President Mike Pence to follow scientific recommendations and provide adequate funding in responding to covid-19.

The Kennedy family has been beset by tragedy, from the assassinations of McKean’s grandfather and great-uncle to the death of her cousin Saoirse Kennedy Hill last year. While they are also widely seen as blessed by fortune, McKean told Glamour in 2008 that was a misconception.

“People think, because I’m a Kennedy, I’m extremely wealthy and don’t flaunt it. Ha!” she said. “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!”

She said it was still a challenge to figure out how to pay her law school bills while committing to a career in public service.

In an interview last year with a Spanish television station, she talked about why she chose to focus in her career on women’s health. While women are “half the world,” she said, investment in medical research often favors men.

“I think there’s … an incredible opportunity for really making a difference,” she said. “When you improve the health of women and their children, you improve the health of their communities.”AD

The Maryland Natural Resources Police is the lead agency in the search, with help from the Coast Guard, Queen Anne Police Department, Anne Arundel Police Department, and Maryland State Police.

The Washington Post

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