Rescue teams are searching the waters of Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, after Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her son Gideon vanished from near their family’s property. The mother and son have been missing for days, leaving just a capsized canoe in their wake. However, the story takes a heartbreaking turn when two bodies are recovered.
Maeve was born into one of America’s most prominent political families. Her grandfather was Robert F. Kennedy, and her great uncle was President John F. Kennedy. What’s more, besides her two most famous relatives – both of whom were assassinated – many more Kennedys have been elected to public service over the decades.
Maeve’s mother was Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, who served as the lieutenant governor of Maryland from 1995 to 2003. Meanwhile, her father David Lee Townsend was a professor at the liberal arts college: St. John’s College. Maeve was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on November 1, 1979.
As a child, Maeve was raised in line with the Kennedys’ Roman Catholic faith. She learned in the Baltimore, Maryland, public school system before attending St. Paul’s School for Girls. She graduated from there in 1997 and went on to study as an undergraduate at Boston College in Massachusetts.
While Maeve belonged to one of America’s most famous families, she was not shy of hard work. During her college years, she supplemented her studies by working part time at Dunkin’ Donuts and Bruegger’s. She also went to study abroad at Trinity College Dublin in Ireland – where the Kennedys had their roots.
Maeve later graduated with two qualifications. One was a joint juris doctor degree from Georgetown University Law Center. Meanwhile, the other was a Master of Science Foreign Service degree, which focused on conflict resolution in international negotiations, from the Walsh School of Foreign Service.
From her early 20s, Maeve devoted her life to public service. She worked in Mozambique, where she volunteered in the Peace Corps. In 2002 she returned to the United States to assist her mother in her bid to become governor in the Maryland gubernatorial election. Kathleen ultimately failed in this endeavor, but Maeve’s career was set on a political path.
Maeve would go on to serve under Barack Obama, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Global Affairs. She became the first senior advisor for human rights in the United States Department of State’s Global AIDS program. As a result, she focused on matters concerning LGBTQ health, women’s and children’s health, and policy issues.
As part of her career, Maeve also worked under the U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein in Washington, D.C. and California. She taught bioethics and human rights at Georgetown University and was an associate research professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy, where she helped to launch a Center for Immigrant, Refugee and Global Health.
In March 2019 Maeve was interviewed by EFE, a Spanish news agency. During the chat, she revealed that her public health work focused on children and women as they made up “half of the world.” Furthermore, Maeve was also spurred by the imbalance in funding that was given to medical research for men’s health issues compared to women’s.
Later that year, Maeve proved that she wasn’t afraid to speak out against matters she disagreed with. In May 2019 she even criticized her uncle, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., for spreading disinformation about vaccines. She also joined fellow public health officials in taking the Trump administration to task when she felt they were failing to address certain issues adequately.
Away from public service, Maeve enjoyed a seemingly happy family life with her husband David McKean. The pair had met in 2003, when Maeve was working for Senator Feinstein in California, and David was studying at Berkeley. The couple traveled through southeast Asia and China together and eventually became engaged in 2008.
Maeve and David tied the knot at the Woman’s National Democratic Club in Washington, D.C. on March 21, 2009. They went on to have three children together: a son named Gideon, their daughter Gabriella and another boy they called Toby. As a family, they resided in Washington, D.C., where both Maeve and David worked as lawyers.
Though Maeve had a thriving career, she always made time for her children. She served as the president of the parent–teacher association at her kids’ school. According to David, much of Maeve’s energy was poured into making their offspring happy and content. But it was while she was playing with her oldest son, Gideon, that tragedy struck.
In April 2020 Maeve, David and their children had been staying at a house owned by Kathleen on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. One day, Maeve and Gideon – then eight – were playing with a ball outside, but it somehow ended up in the shallow cove behind the house. According to David, the water was calmer here than on the wider bay, so Maeve and Gideon hopped in a canoe to retrieve the ball.
In a Facebook post from April 2020, David explained what happened next. He wrote that Maeve and Gideon “somehow got pushed by wind or tide into the open bay.” He added, “About 30 minutes later they were spotted by an onlooker from land, who saw them far out from shore, and called the police. After that last sighting, they were not seen again.”
With Maeve and Gideon nowhere to be seen, a desperate search for the mother and son got underway. Authorities searched throughout the afternoon into the night and the following day. However, 26 hours after Maeve and Gideon were confirmed as missing, the Coast Guard suspended its search after it had found a capsized canoe.
By that point, the chances of Maeve and Gideon being found alive were incredibly slim. As a result, it was presumed that the pair had died, and the focus turned to recovering their bodies from the bay. Commander Matthew Fine from the Sector Maryland-National Capitol Region command center announced the sad news.
In a statement released in April 2020, Fine said of Maeve and Gideon’s disappearance, “This was a difficult case, and even more difficult to make the decision to suspend the search… 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.”
Maeve’s mother Kathleen also paid tribute to her “beloved daughter… and grandson Gideon” in a statement. She said, “My heart is 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.”
It wasn’t until April 6, 2020 – three days after Maeve and Gideon went missing – that divers retrieved a body from the water, 2.5 miles from Kathleen’s house. Sadly, it belonged to Maeve. Tragically, two days later, Gideon’s body was located, 2,000 feet away from where his mother had been found.
Soon after, Gideon’s cause of death was confirmed by authorities. In April 2020, a spokesperson from the Maryland Department of Health told E! News, “The cause of death is drowning complicated by hypothermia, and the manner is an accident.” It had previously been reported that Maeve had also died as a result of accidental drowning.
Following the retrieval of Gideon and Maeve’s bodies, Kathleen thanked those involved in the search for her loved ones. In a statement obtained by E! News in April 2020, she said, “They have helped us bring some closure to this terrible loss, and our family will always be grateful for their tireless work.”
To honor Maeve and Gideon, the Kennedy family arranged a virtual memorial service. And according to Alan Fleischmann, who had previously worked as Kathleen’s chief of staff, “thousands” of individuals tuned in to pay their respects to the mother and son. As a result, he felt that it was a fitting tribute to Maeve and Gideon.
In a statement from April 2020, Fleischmann said of the Kennedys, “The family came together along with friends – of all ages – and from across the globe. The service and the number of attendees is a testimony of the enduring love and loss that is Maeve and Gideon. The service captured their enduring vitality and vividness.”
Over the years, the Kennedy family have endured their fair share of tragedies. Many of these have involved the direct descendants of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. and his wife Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy: Maeve’s great-grandparents. The frequency at which adversity seems to affect the family has led some to believe in a so-called “Kennedy Curse.”
Some of the hardships the Kennedy family have faced include the 1941 lobotomy of Rosemary: Maeve’s great aunt. The procedure was intended to treat a mental disability, but it instead left her incapacitated for the remainder of her life. Furthermore, in 1944, Maeve’s great uncle Joseph Jr. died when the bomber he was flying in exploded while serving in World War II.
Joseph Jnr.’s sister Kathleen also met her demise in an aviation accident, when the plane that she was traveling in crashed in France in 1948. Yet more of Joseph Sr. and Rose’s children would face untimely deaths. Perhaps most memorable of all were the assassinations of John and Bobby, which occurred in 1963 and 1968, respectively.
There was more misfortune for the Kennedy family to endure in 1964 when John and Bobby’s younger brother Ted almost died in a plane crash that killed the pilot and legislative aide Edward Moss. Ted was involved in yet another accident in 1969 when the car that he was driving skidded off a bridge, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne, in an episode that has become known as the Chappaquiddick incident.
And it wasn’t just the children of Joseph Snr. and Rose who’ve had their lives marked by tragedy. In more recent decades, Bobby’s son David Anthony Kennedy passed away after a drug overdose in 1984. And in 1997 David’s brother Michael LeMoyne Kennedy died as a result of a skiing accident.
Meanwhile, in 1999 JFK’s son John Fitzgerald Kennedy Jr. died in a plane crash, alongside his wife Carolyn and sister-in-law Lauren. He was just 38 at the time. And still more of the Kennedy’s have met untimely deaths. In 2011 Ted’s daughter Kara Anne Kennedy Allen died aged 51 and her cousin Christopher Kennedy Lawford at 63 as a result of heart attacks.
Furthermore, in August 2019 Bobby’s 22-year-old granddaughter Saoirse Roisin Kennedy-Hill was found dead at the Kennedy family compound in Cape Cod, MA, following an overdose. And it was less than a year later that her older cousin Maeve and her son Gideon lost their lives through accidental drowning.
With all these misfortunes considered, it would be fair to say the Kennedy clan have endured more tragedies than most families. However, the Kennedy curse is nothing but a rumor. By comparison, the pain felt by those close to the fallen members of the family is very real – as Maeve’s husband David can attest.
After Maeve and Gideon’s disappearance, David took to Facebook to pay tribute to his wife and son. In a heartbreaking post from April 2020, he said of Maeve, “She was my everything. She was my best friend and my soulmate. I have already thought many times over today that I need to remember to tell Maeve about something that’s happening. I am terrified by the idea that this will fade over time.”
Continuing to honor his late wife David added, “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.”
David recalled how Maeve went out of her way to juggle her family and career. He said, “She did the Peace Corps, she ran the Boston Marathon, she knew how [to] rub Gabriella’s legs when they cramped, and being in her presence somehow allowed you to be a better version of yourself. She was the brightest light I have ever known.”
In his emotional Facebook post, David also paid tribute to his son, Gideon. The doting dad said, “Gideon was eight, but he may as well have been 38. He was deeply compassionate, declining to sing children’s songs if they contained a hint of animals or people being treated cruelly. He hated if I accidentally let a bad word slip.”
David said of Gideon, “He was also incredibly social, athletic and courageous.” But he added, “It is impossible to sum up Gideon here. I am heartbroken to even have to try. I used to marvel at him as a toddler and worry that he was too perfect to exist in this world. It seems to me now that he was.”
Maeve and Gideon not only left behind David, but the other McKean children. The distraught dad said of them, “At seven, Gabriella is heartbroken, but she amazes me with her maturity and grace. Toby is two-and-a-half, so he’s 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.”
David finished his heart wrenching post by vowing to honor his wife and son’s legacies. He said, “As Gabriella and Toby lay sleeping next to me last night, I promised them that I would do my best to be the parent that Maeve was, and to be the person that Gideon clearly would have grown up to be.”