It was Wednesday last week when officials received an emergency call from an employee of the rental boat business at Lake Piru—a reservoir located in Los Padres National Forest and Topatopa Mountains of Ventura County, California—saying they found a little girl in one of the boats by herself, and the mom’s nowhere to be found.
The Ventura County sheriff’s department, however, confirmed later that day that the missing person the authorities had been searching for was indeed the 33-year-old actor Naya Rivera, and the child that the employee thought was a little girl is Rivera’s four-year-old son.
Wednesday, July 8
Rivera and her son went to Lake Piru, where she rented a pontoon boat. They left the dock at approximately 1 p.m. and were supposed to return the boat three hours later. The workers began searching for them when Rivera and her son failed to return by 4:30 p.m. They later found the boy sleeping by himself in the boat, which was adrift in the northern portion of the lake known as the Narrows.
Rivera’s son was wearing a life jacket, but the adult-sized life jacket she’s supposed to be wearing was also found in the boat.
Investigators learned from the four-year-old boy that he and his mother had been swimming in the lake. He told them that his mother helped him back into the boat by boosting him onto the deck from behind. When he looked back, he saw her disappear under the surface of the water.
Thursday, July 9
A report from the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office said that “approximately 50 sheriff’s personnel, along with a helicopter, boat crews, divers, and unmanned aerial vehicles searched the lake for five hours Wednesday evening, but Rivera could not be found. The entire shoreline and surface of the lake were thoroughly searched. Divers also searched under water in the area where the boat had last been seen. However, there was no sign of Rivera.”
The report also said that “Investigators believe Rivera drowned in what appears to be a tragic accident.”
The search and rescue operation then officially turned into a massive recovery operation with approximately 100 personnel participating in the mission, including resources from neighboring counties and the United States Coast Guard.
Unfortunately, the recovery operation had become a very slow process due to difficult conditions in the lake.
Monday, July 13
After six days of conducting a methodical and comprehensive search, Ventura County Sheriff William Ayub confirmed in a press conference that their search teams have recovered a body in the lake.
He said, “Based on the location where the body was found, physical characteristics of the body, clothing found on the body and the physical condition of the body as well as the absence of any other persons reported missing in the area, we are confident the body we found is that of Naya Rivera.”
He also said that there was no indication of foul play and no indication this was a suicide.
An autopsy will still be performed on Rivera’s body and a positive identification will be made through the examination of dental records.
Life and Career
Naya Rivera rose to stardom after becoming part of the hit Fox TV series ‘Glee’. She played the role of the feisty cheerleader Santana Lopez who at first was your typical mean girl but grew to be so much more. A big part of the journey of Rivera’s character revolved around her realization of her sexuality, and the way Rivera as an actor threaded through this delicate yet powerful subject added value and volume to the overall message of the show. Queer female fans and questioning fans of the show felt represented by her character’s story of self discovery, misadventures, friendship, and love.
To everyone who knew Rivera, she was exactly that in real life but only more intense, authentic, and one of a kind.
“Naya was such a powerful force, in both her personal life and in her work. While so many of us were trying to find our voice, Naya’s was clear and resolute.” wrote Rivera’s Glee co-star Matthew Morrison who played the role of Mr. Schue.
“Naya made me laugh like no one else on that set. I always said it while we were working together and I’ve maintained it ever since. Her playful, wicked sense of humor never ceased to bring a smile to my face. She played by her own rules and was in a class of her own. She had a brashness about her that I couldn’t help but be enchanted by. I also always loved her voice, and savored every chance I got to hear her sing. I think she had more talent than we would have ever been able to see.” wrote Darren Criss who also starred in Glee as Blaine Anderson.
“I was so intimidated by her, yet she had a way of disarming that just made you want to be around her, hear what she had to say (because it would undoubtedly be the sharpest and most real thing you would hear all day). She was kind and open to me when she didn’t have to be, when I was a naive, clueless and insecure newcomer. Bravely authentic, genuinely kind, incredibly talented and deeply loved by so many. Thinking of her family and loved ones. Rest In Peace, Naya.” wrote Melissa Benoist, another Glee co-star of Rivera.
“I’m thankful for all the ways in which she made me a better person. She taught me how to advocate for myself and to speak up for the things and people that were important to me, always. I’m thankful for the times I grew an ab muscle from laughing so hard at something she said. I’m thankful she became like family. I’m thankful that my dad happened to have met her weeks before I did and when I got Glee, he told me to ‘look out for a girl named Naya because she seemed nice.’ Well dad, she was nice and she became one of my favorite people ever.” wrote Kevin McHale who played Artie Abrams.
Rivera’s friends also shared their most memorable moments with the late actress:
“I will never forget asking you to shoot an episode of my cooking show Tia Mowry at Home and you saying yes without hesitation. Or us walking together to our cars on the paramount lot after a long hard day of work. We were both so stoked that we had television shows on the same lot. I love you. Your smile will always be the most beautiful smile. Rest my love. You are now a beautiful angel.” wrote actress Tia Mowry, who Rivera had been good friends with since they were kids.
“Anyone in Naya’s crew had a feisty, witty, 110 pound bodyguard on their side. She always had a mischievous glimmer in her eye and she always knew more than she let on. She was the rock of her family. She had a knack for seeing through someone’s bullshit, and she knew if I was lying when I said I was okay. She also had a knack for dropping a filthy one-liner, exiting the room and leaving us with our jaws on the floor.” wrote Meg Doyle who became part of Rivera’s crew after briefly working together on Glee.
“I was so lucky to be her friend. To hear her utter even a word I wrote was the greatest gift. She was truly a star, incredibly funny and so brilliantly insightful. The world has lost a real one & my heart breaks for anyone who loved her.” wrote Rivera’s friend Jess Meyer who’s a writer.
Rivera began acting at a tender age, but the actress revealed that she already had an agent at eight months old. She appeared in a number of TV commercials before becoming part of the CBS sitcom ‘The Royal Family’ at four years old.
Throughout her teenage years Rivera juggled different part time jobs. She worked as a nanny, a waitress, a telemarketer, and she had recurring roles and guest spots on TV shows. It was ‘Glee’ that ultimately made Rivera a household name and that opened the door to global stardom for the actress.
According to Glee creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, and Ian Brennan, “Naya wasn’t a series regular when we cast her on Glee. She didn’t have more than a few lines in the pilot. But it didn’t take more than an episode or two for us to realize that we had lucked into finding one of the most talented, special stars we would ever have the pleasure of working with. Naya could act, she could dance, and she could sing (could she ever sing!) She could nail a joke as well as she could crush you with an emotional scene. She could move between being scary tough and deeply vulnerable with ease. She was a joy to write for, a joy to direct and a joy to be around.”
Rivera was nominated for numerous awards for her work on Glee, but the multifaceted artist also explored music, she was signed as a solo act under Columbia Records, the big screen, and even writing. She authored her own memoir titled “Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up.”
But out of all her achievements, Rivera considers her son with Glee co-star and ex-husband Ryan Dorsey as her “greatest success”—four year old Josey.
“I’m a mom now, and what I love more than acting is being Josey’s mom. So, I want to be here for him. And I don’t want to miss anything,” Rivera said in an interview with ET in 2016. “I’m going to navigate the right way to do that.” she added.
In another interview with Fit Pregnancy where Rivera and her son were featured on the cover, the actress said “You’re always going to wonder if you’re doing things wrong.”
“But that’s what it means to be a mom — to care so much about someone else that you just want to be as perfect as possible.” she added.
Rivera is survived by her family, her father George and her mother Yolanda, her siblings Mychal and Nickayla, and her four-year-old son Josey.
Petition for Lake Piru warning signs
Thousands are demanding for warning signs to be put up around Lake Piru. Through an online appeal petitioners wrote: “Naya Rivera is not the first, nor the last to go missing at Lake Piru. Lake Piru is a very deep lake with very bad whirlpools, people have been asking for years for the city to put up warning signs for swimmers. Locals of Ventura County don’t go to Lake Piru for this reason! Tourists have no idea what they’re getting into. Lake Piru needs signs. We’re tired of waiting. We need justice for all those who got lost at Lake Piru. Put up the signs.”