Authorities have called off the search for Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean and her 8-year-old son, Gideon Joseph Kennedy McKean, who went out in a canoe on the Chesapeake Bay Thursday and didn’t return to shore.
“This was a difficult case, and even more difficult to make the decision to suspend the search,” Cmdr. Matthew Fine of the U.S. Coast Guard said late Friday, according to CNN. “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.”
The Coast Guard had gotten a report on Thursday that “two individuals were seen struggling to return to shore in a canoe” near Herring Bay, Maryland, and “were not seen again.” McKean’s husband, David McKean, said children had been kicking a ball around the yard of their Chesapeake Bay house when it landed in the water, and his wife and son got in the canoe to go get it.
“They just got farther out than they could handle and couldn’t get back in,” he told The Washington Post.
A statement from the state Natural Resources Police said an overturned canoe was found later that night.
The search for the mother and son went on for 26 hours before being called off, though the mission’s goals had “turned from rescue to recovery” on Friday.
“It has been more than 24 hours, and the chances they have survived are impossibly small,” David McKean wrote in a Facebook post on Friday night. “It is clear that Maeve and Gideon have passed away.”
McKean, 40, was the executive director of the Georgetown University Global Health Initiative, and taught human rights and bioethics and human rights, according to USA Today.
She was the granddaughter of the late Attorney General and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and grandniece of former President John F. Kennedy. Her mother is former Maryland Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend.
“You could hear Maeve’s laugh a block away—and she laughed a lot,” her husband wrote in his Facebook tribute. “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 described 8-year-old Gideon as a “deeply compassionate” child who loved reading, sports and going on adventures with friends.
“It is impossible to sum up Gideon here,” he wrote. “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.”
The couple has two surviving children, 7-year-old Gabriella and 2-year-old Toby.
One of the world’s most influential political families, the Kennedys have faced a striking number of family members unexpectedly dying young. The most high-profile incidents were the assassinations of then-President John F. Kennedy and his brother, then-Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, in 1963 and 1968, respectively; and the plane crash that killed 38-year-old John F. Kennedy Jr., along with his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette, in 1999.