Naya Rivera was reported missing last week after an outing with her son to Lake Piru in California, and her body was recovered Monday morning

By Jen Juneau
July 13, 2020 07:00 PM
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Among her many talents and responsibilities, Naya Rivera's biggest priority was being a mom.

The 33-year-old Glee alum, whose body was recovered Monday morning after she went missing last week during a trip to Lake Piru with her 4½-year-old son Josey Hollis in Ventura County, California — had been open over the years about the ups and downs of parenting Josey, and how much being a mom meant to her.

"First and foremost, everything I do is for Josey. He's at the best age! He's talking so much and [he's] so cool, kind and sweet," Rivera told PEOPLE in September 2018, adding that her little boy "inspires [her] in so many ways that it felt natural to want to create" her gender-neutral kids' lifestyle brand JOJO&IZZY.

"Starting this company from the ground up is something I'm really, really proud of," continued the star, who shares Josey with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey. "I know that my son is proud of it too. It's a sweet bond that we share together."

"I'll take things to Josey for his input, especially the capes. He really loves the capes and thought he was a superhero. He kept running around the house saying, 'I'm a superhero!' " Rivera said.

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Naya Rivera and son Josey
Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images
Naya Rivera and son Josey
CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images

Rivera and Dorsey, 36, finalized their divorce in June 2018, according to court documents obtained by The Blast. The pair had agreed to joint physical custody as of this past March, waiving spousal support in their original settlement.

"Our priority is and always will be our beautiful son that we share together. We will continue to be great co-parenting partners for him," they told PEOPLE in a statement at the time of their November 2016 divorce filing.

In April 2017, the actress opened up to Momtastic about working with Dorsey to raise their son. "It's always going to have its challenges logistically, but Josey is our priority. We're his parents," she said.

"If everybody looks at it that way it alleviates some of the drama. Doing what's best for Josey is really what it all boils down to," the star added.

Rivera also previously authored a series of blog posts for PEOPLE about pregnancy and new motherhood, covering relatable topics like breastfeeding, dealing with the physical and emotional changes of her second trimester, getting through her third trimester in anticipation for baby and more.

Naya Rivera
FOX Image Collection via Getty Images

In 2016, the Step Up: High Water actress told Mini magazine that motherhood had made her "a much more observant person," adding that the part that surprised her the most was "how truly selfless you become."

"I hope to instill good morals and values in [Josey]," Rivera added. "I want to teach him to be confident but kind, strong but not proud, and to always be in love with life."

And all the challenges that came along with new motherhood were completely worth it for the star. "The love I get from him. Little things like the two kisses he stood up and gave me last night to say thank you for making him mac and cheese from scratch," she said. "It's a love never found anywhere or with anyone else."

Rivera, known for playing spitfire Cheerio Santana Lopez on Glee during the musical teen dramedy series' full run from 2009 to 2015, also opened up about parenting, growing up, her career, relationships and everything in between in her 2016 memoir Sorry Not Sorry.

As for whether she'd be up for a potential Glee reunion, the actress said with a laugh in November 2019 that she'd "love to see what Santana has been up to," predicting that her character — who helped pave the way for many in terms of LGBTQ+ representation on television — would "probably [be] a real-estate agent and a single mom, somehow, but still a lesbian."

Rivera was reported missing on Wednesday after an outing with her son to the local Lake Piru. The two had rented a pontoon boat and were swimming in the water. After the boat was overdue for return following the three-hour rental, staff at the lake found it at the north side of the body of water with her son aboard, but not Rivera. Josey told investigators that his mother never got back into the boat after they had been in the water.

According to NBC Los Angeles, Josey was wearing his lifejacket when he was found asleep on the vessel. An adult lifejacket, believed to be the one provided to Rivera, was still on the boat. The police said the lake would remain closed to the public for the duration of the search — which shifted to a mission to recover Rivera's body by the following morning, as police had presumed her to be dead.

After the actress went missing, Ventura County Sheriff's Capt. Eric Buschow told the Los Angeles Times that Josey was "in good health" after being found, adding, "The family is going through a very traumatic time right now."

Rivera's last post on Instagram was a close-up snapshot of her and her little boy sharing a sweet embrace and a smooch, shared one day before her disappearance. "Just the two of us," she captioned it.

Following her disappearance, a source told PEOPLE in part of Rivera, "Her son comes first. That's apparent in everything she's posted and done. Everything is about her son."