Investigators believe 'Glee' star Naya Rivera drowned in a tragic accident, son is safe

Friday - 10/07/2020 10:15
The day before she went missing, Rivera posted a picture on Instagram embracing her son with the caption, "Just the two of us."

Actress Naya Rivera, best known as the snarky Santana Lopez on "Glee," is presumed dead after she disappeared from a rented boat on a Southern California lake Wednesday, according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators believe Rivera drowned in what appears to be a tragic accident, according to a statement released Thursday by Ventura County Sheriff's Office Capt. Eric Buschow. 

Rivera’s son told investigators that he and his mother had been swimming in the lake, and he got back in the boat, but Rivera did not, according to Buschow. The child is in the company of family.

By about 12 p.m. EDT Thursday, the effort to find Rivera had transitioned to a search and recovery effort. About 100 people were taking part in operations to find her body.

As of nearly 10 p.m. Rivera had not been found. Police released security camera footage late Thursday showing the actress parking at the Lake Piru boat launch with her son and boarding the rented pontoon.

Police also released the initial 911 call that signaled Rivera's disappearance.

“We found a little girl in the boat by herself and her mom is nowhere to be found,” the woman caller said in a calm voice, apparently referring to Rivera’s 4-year-old son Josey. "My husband was one of people first there and I'm going to find more information, but he told me to call it in." 

Sheriff's officials said there was no evidence of foul play or any indication of a suicide. Authorities said Rivera had been to the lake in the past.

The physical search for Rivera was suspended overnight Wednesday for safety reasons and resumed Thursday morning, said Deputy Chris Dyer, a spokesman for the agency. Approximately 50 sheriff’s personnel, along with a helicopter, boat crews, divers, and unmanned aerial vehicles searched the lake for five hours Wednesday evening.

Naya Rivera attends the LA Premiere of Roadside Attraction's 'Judy' at Samuel Goldwyn Theater on Sept. 19, 2019 in Beverly Hills, Calif.

By 11:30 a.m. Thursday, four dive boats were scouring the northern shoreline and two helicopters hovered above in an area of Lake Piru called Juan Fernandez Spring, with divers experiencing less than one foot of visibility in the water in daylight.

The difficult conditions have made the recovery operation a very slow process, according to Buschow, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is assisting in the search with divers and sonar equipment.  

In the area where the boat was found, the water was about 30 feet (9 meters) deep, authorities said. Murky waters heavy with vegetation made it difficult for divers to see more than about a foot ahead of them.

“In the lake, the visibility is terrible,” Sheriff’s Sgt. Kevin Donoghue said.

He said the plants that proved challenging for divers may have been a problem for Rivera.

“If the body is entangled on something beneath the water, it may never come back up,” Donoghue said.

Drownings occur  at the lake from time to time, Dyer said. "It's not so often because the lake has been low so that has affected attendance," he said. "When the lake is higher and it's hotter at the lake, drownings do happen."

What we know about Rivera's boating incident

The actress arrived at Lake Piru in Ventura County, about 60 miles northwest of Los Angeles, around 1 p.m. Wednesday and rented a boat with her 4-year-old son, said Buschow.

On Thursday, sheriff's officials said Rivera had been overdue to return her rental and a staff member went in search of her. The staff member discovered Rivera's child alone and asleep in a life vest aboard the boat at about 4 p.m. 

Rivera's identification and an adult life vest were on the boat. Their vehicle remained at the site.

Rivera's son was pictured Thursday in the care of his father, actor Ryan Dorsey, in photos obtained by the Daily Mail.

USA TODAY has reached out to Rivera's publicist. 

Search and Rescue teams use boats to look along the northern shore of Lake Piru on Thursday, July 9, 2020, for actress Naya Rivera. The 'Glee' actress went missing after renting a boat with her 4-year-old son at Lake Piru on Wednesday.

'Glee' and more of Rivera's career highlights

Rivera starred as Santana Lopez on the Fox musical dramedy "Glee," which ran from 2009 to 2015. A Southern California native, Rivera was born and raised in the Santa Clarita Valley of Los Angeles County, approximately 20 miles from Lake Piru.

She called her 4-year-old son “my greatest success, and I will never do any better than him” in her 2016 memoir “Sorry Not Sorry.” Rivera and Dorsey divorced in June 2018 after nearly four years of marriage.

The actress was engaged to rapper Big Sean in 2013, but their relationship ended a year later. The pair met on Twitter and collaborated musically, with the rapper appearing on Rivera’s debut single “Sorry.”

Actress Naya Rivera, known for her role in 'Glee,' was reported missing on Wednesday after her 4-year-old son was found floating by himself in a rented boat in Ventura County, California, according to CBS Los Angeles.

She started her career in entertainment at age 4, with recurring roles on "Family Matters" and "The Royal Family," as well as minor appearances on other shows like "Baywatch" and "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," according to IMDb.

Most recently, Rivera starred as Collette Jones for three seasons of the YouTube Red series "Step Up: High Water."

The day before she went missing, Rivera posted a picture on Instagram embracing her son with the caption, "Just the two of us."

On July 2, Rivera wrote on Instagram: "No matter the year, circumstance, or strife, every day you're alive is a blessing. Make the most of today and every day you are given. tomorrow is not promised."

'Glee' co-stars, more celebrities react

Several of Rivera's "Glee" castmates responded to the news, praying for her safe return.

"We need all the prayers we can get to bring our Naya back home to us," wrote Heather Morris, who played Brittany Pierce. "We need your love and light." 

"Please pray for @nayarivera to be found safe and sound," singer Demi Lovato, who played one of Rivera's love interests in season 5 of the show, posted on her Instagram story alongside a photo of a lit candle. 

Late Wednesday, Harry Shum Jr. (Mike Chang) tweeted, "Praying."


Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, who appeared on "Glee" as April Rhodes, tweeted that she was praying for Rivera to be found.

Chord Overstreet, who starred on "Glee," encouraged his Twitter followers to "love and hug on the people you can, while you can."

"I love you," he continued. "Everyone please send out your prayers."


Alex Newell, who played Unique Adams on the show, tweeted, "NOTHING is impossible for my God!"

Lauren Potter, who played Becky Jackson, recalled in a tweet that she spoke with Rivera on Potter's birthday in May.

"I love you," Potter added.

Dot-Marie Jones, who portrayed Coach Beiste, encouraged her Instagramfollowers to "PLEASE KEEP PRAYING!"

"THIS CANT BE!!!" she wrote. "#nayarivera I LOVE YOU GIRL"

Actress Jackée Harry, who made a cameo as herself in season 5 of the show, tweeted, "Prayers up for the lovely Naya Rivera."

Harry shared a scene the two shot together from Rivera's first television series, "The Royal Family."

"I’ve watched her career blossom ever since," Harry wrote. "Please God, don’t cut this life short."

Other stars have also tweeted about the news, including Nicole Polizzi of "Jersey Shore" .

"Waking up to Naya Rivera missing is an absolute tragedy. Praying for her safety. 🙏🏽🙏🏽 So absolutely heartbreaking thinking of her 4 year old," she wrotewith the hashtag #FindNaya.

Contributing: Ventura County Star, The Associated Press


 Keywords: Hollywood

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