Glee Star Naya Rivera Dead at 33 After Disappearing on Boating Trip with 4-Year-Old Son
The actress was reported missing Wednesday after a trip to Lake Piru in Ventura County, California
Naya Rivera is confirmed dead five days after disappearing during a trip to a California lake with her 4-year-old son. She was 33.
"We are confident the body we found is that of Naya Rivera," Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said in a news conference Monday. "It has been an extremely difficult time for her family throughout this ordeal ... our hearts are with them and we share in their grief for Naya’s loss."
The sheriff added that there is no evidence of foul play or suicide.
On Wednesday, the Glee alumna was reported missing after an outing to Lake Piru in Ventura County, California. Rivera and her 4-year-old son, Josey Dorsey, rented a pontoon boat.
"He and Naya swam in the lake together," Ayub said. "It was during that time that her son described being helped onto the boat by Naya. ... He told investigators he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water."
Later, he added, "We believe that she mustered enough energy to get her son back on the boat, but not enough to save herself."
When the boat became overdue for return after its three-hour rental, staff found it at the north side of the lake, with Josey wearing a life jacket, sleeping alone on board. An adult lifejacket, believed to be the one provided to Rivera, was still on the boat. One day later, police announced she was presumed dead, maintaining they considered her disappearance to be "a horrible accident."
Authorities searched the waters with the help of dive teams and sonar technology for days, but the murky conditions of the lake complicated their efforts. On Monday morning, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office tweeted that a body had been found in the lake.
The heavy brush made it “very, very difficult” for divers to find the body, Ayub said during Monday's news conference, explaining that Rivera "was concealed in some of the shrubbery on the floor bed of the lake."
Lake Piru has been the site of several drownings over the years, and the actress's disappearance prompted a petition calling for signs warning swimmers of its dangerous conditions. Ayub noted that "swimming is allowed."
Rivera played Santana Lopez, a cheerleader and star glee club member, on the musical comedy Glee. She appeared in nearly every episode of hit show's six-season run and was considered a trailblazer for LGBTQ characters. Santana came out in the 2011 episode "I Kissed a Girl" after developing feelings for best friend Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris).
In 2017, Rivera wrote a love letter to the LGBT community for Billboard, saying, "I have been so incredibly fortunate to portray a character on television that has meant so much to so many within the LGBTQ community. Off screen, I am a woman who stands in support of equal rights for all. It has been one of the great blessings in my life to receive such love and touching stories as a result of my portrayal of Santana Lopez in Glee."
In May 2019, Rivera reflected on the 10-year anniversary of the show’s premiere with a lengthy post on Instagram, saying she was “so blessed” to have been a part of it.
The California native started her Hollywood career at age 4, finding her first recurring role on the CBS sitcom The Royal Family. Rivera also made appearances on shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters and The Bernie Mac Show. Most recently, the actress starred in the series Step Up: High Water.
Rivera shared Josey with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey. The two began dating in 2010 but split. In July 2014, they surprised fans when PEOPLE exclusively confirmed they had reconnected and tied the knot in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico — just three months after the bride broke off her engagement to rapper Big Sean.
Rivera and Dorsey welcomed their child in September 2015 but later filed for divorce twice. Their divorce was finalized in June 2018.
Their relationship was tumultuous at times. In 2017, after the couple had called off divorce proceedings, Rivera was arrested and charged with misdemeanor domestic battery after she allegedly hit Dorsey while taking their son for a walk. She filed for divorce again shortly after, and the charge was dismissed at Dorsey's request.
The exes had agreed to joint custody of Josey three months before Rivera went missing. On Sunday, Dorsey, 36, was spotted joining the search at Lake Piru, venturing into the water with Rivera's family.
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On July 2, Rivera tweeted a selfie with a now-eerie message, writing, "tomorrow is not promised."
"no matter the year, circumstance, or strifes every day you're alive is a blessing," she added. "make the most of today and every day you are given. tomorrow is not promised."