The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The Kennedys have endured tragedy and untimely deaths. Now it has happened again.

John F. Kennedy's funeral procession in Washington on Nov. 25, 1963. Widow Jacqueline Kennedy, center, daughter Caroline Kennedy, left, and son John Jr., are accompanied by the late president's brothers Sen. Edward Kennedy, left, and Attorney General Robert Kennedy. (AP Photo)
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The Kennedys are among the most famous and powerful families in the world.

The descendants of Joseph Kennedy Sr. and his wife, Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, have occupied some of the highest offices in the land — from congressman to senator to president of the United States.

But the Kennedys have also endured unspeakable pain, with assassinations of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 and the untimely deaths of so many other family members. Plane crashes, overdoses, and accidents have claimed Kennedys at young ages.

Tragedy has struck again.

The Kennedy family said Friday night that the search for Maeve Kennedy Townsend McKean, 40, and her 8-year-old son Gideon had turned into a recovery mission. McKean’s husband, David, said in a grieving Facebook post that “It is clear that Maeve and Gideon have passed away.”

Mother and son went missing Thursday while in a canoe on the Chesapeake Bay near Annapolis. Maeve McKean is the grandniece of JFK and granddaughter of RFK. She is the daughter of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, a former lieutenant governor of Maryland.

Kennedy mother and son, swept away in Chesapeake Bay, are mourned by family

“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,” Kathleen Kennedy Townsend said in a statement. Townsend was a teenager when her father, Robert F. Kennedy, was assassinated.

Below are other Kennedy family members whose lives were cut short early.

Joseph P. Kennedy Jr.

The oldest of the Kennedy siblings, Joseph was a Navy pilot during World War II. He flew numerous combat missions but perished in a mysterious in-flight explosion, during a secret mission gone awry in 1944. He was 29. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

“Joe refused his proffered leave and persuaded his crew to remain on for D-Day,” John F. Kennedy later said. “They flew frequently during June and July, and at the end of July they were given another opportunity to go home. He felt it unfair to ask his crew to stay on longer, and they returned to the United States. He remained.”

Kathleen 'Kick’ Kennedy Cavendish

Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy volunteered for the Red Cross during World War II, first in New York and later in London. She married a British nobleman, William Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington, who died shortly after being called up to service in 1944. She remained in England after the war and died in a plane crash in France in 1948. She was 28.

John F. Kennedy Jr.

At 38, John F. Kennedy Jr., the late president’s son, was killed when the small plane he was piloting crashed into the sea near Martha’s Vineyard. The crash also claimed the lives of his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, and her sister, Lauren Bessette.

Edward M. Kennedy delivered his nephew’s eulogy. “He was a boy who grew into a man with a zest for life and a love of adventure,” Kennedy said. “He was a pied piper who brought us all along. . . . He had a legacy, and he learned to treasure it. He was part of a legend, and he learned to live with it.”

David Kennedy

David, the 28-year-old son of Ethel and Robert F. Kennedy, was found dead in a Palm Beach, Fla., hotel room in 1984 after years of struggling with addiction. He was reportedly traumatized by his father’s violent death. His uncle, Edward M. Kennedy, said in a statement that “we all pray that David has finally found the peace that he did not find in life.”

Michael Kennedy

Another of Robert and Ethel’s sons died in a 1997 skiing accident. Michael, an expert skier, was playing a “dangerous” game that combined the alpine sport with football when he crashed into a tree, according to the New York Times. He was 39. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Maryland’s lieutenant governor at the time, read from the Bible at his funeral.

Saoirse Kennedy Hill

The granddaughter of Robert F. Kennedy was found dead at the famed Kennedy family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., in August 2019. Authorities later said the 22-year-old died of an accidental overdose. Kennedy Hill had been a student at Boston College and had written movingly in her high school newspaper about her struggle with depression. “Although I was mostly a happy child,” she wrote, “I suffered bouts of deep sadness that felt like a heavy boulder on my chest.”

President John F. Kennedy

Nov. 22, 1963. The country’s 35th president was assassinated in Dallas while riding in a motorcade. His death at 46 shook the nation. His brother, Robert F. Kennedy, tried to carry on his legacy in politics. Then an assassin’s bullet took his life, too.

Robert F. Kennedy

Just moments after celebrating his win in the California Democratic presidential primary in 1968, Bobby Kennedy was shot and killed at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. His brother, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), delivered his eulogy. “He gave us strength in time of trouble, wisdom in time of uncertainty, and sharing in time of happiness. He will always be by our side,” Kennedy said. “Love is not an easy feeling to put into words. Nor is loyalty, or trust, or joy. But he was all of these. He loved life completely and he lived it intensely.”

Sen. Robert F. Kennedy (D-N.Y.) was shot and killed in 1968, while running for President, but 50 years later, doubts linger on who pulled the trigger. (Video: Joyce Koh/The Washington Post)

Read more Retropolis:

JFK assassination conspiracy theories: The grassy knoll, Umbrella Man, LBJ and Ted Cruz’s dad

Who killed Bobby Kennedy? His son RFK Jr. doesn’t believe it was Sirhan Sirhan.

JFK’s last birthday: Gifts, champagne and wandering hands on the presidential yacht