Naya Rivera used last ounce of strength to get son back on boat as it drifted away before she drowned in lake, cops say

NAYA Rivera used the last of her strength to save her four-year-old son and get him back on their boat before she died, police have said.

The Glee star's body was found in a California lake on Monday five days after she went missing underwater during a trip with her son Josey.

The actress' body was discovered floating near the surface of Lake Piru with officials believing she may have been tangled in plants and so concealed from divers searching for her.

Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said at a news conference on Monday that Naya "must have mustered enough energy to get her son back on the boat, but not enough to save herself".

Josey told police his mum "boosted him onto the deck of their rental boat from behind" before he "saw her disappear under the surface of the water" after they had climbed off the back of the boat and gone swimming.


The pair were last pictured arriving at the lake in a black 4×4 vehicle and Naya was seen taking her son from the back seat before walking to the pontoon.

Josey was found asleep in his life jacket on their pontoon but there was no trace of the 33-year-old. 

A woman called emergency services after her husband discovered thefour-year-old, mistakenly identified as a girl.

In the call – which was released to the public by police – the woman is heard saying: "The emergency is we found a little girl in a boat all by herself and her mum is nowhere to be found."

The boy told investigators that his mother helped him back aboard but when he looked back he saw her disappear into the water, Sheriff Ayub explained. 

On Monday, the Ventura County Sheriff announced that a body had been pulled from the water. 

Sheriff Ayub said while an autopsy and official identification are forthcoming, investigators are "confident" the body is Rivera's based on the location, physical characteristics and clothing.

Speaking at a news conference, Ayub said her body was found in the northeastern portion of the lake – which is 60 ft deep – and an "empty canyon" of growth.

"We believe she was concealed within some of the shrubbery on the floor bed of the lake," Ayub said, adding that investigators didn't believe any foul play was involved.

"The boat started drifting… she mustered enough energy to get her son back on the boat but not enough to save herself," the sheriff told reporters.

Ventura County Sheriff's Office sergeant Kevin Donoghue said that after speaking with Josey, they "have no reason to believe she took her own life".

He added: "We interviewed her son and there was nothing that we learned from her son that would have suggested that this was suicide.

"Everything that we’ve learned so far leads to this being some sort of water recreational accident."

It was also revealed that a positive identification would be made via dental records at the Medical Examiner's office.

Ventura County Captain Eric Buschow confirmed earlier that boat crews and divers found remains "floating" in the water, saying an autopsy would be conducted at a later time.

The announcement came as Rivera's family and former Glee castmates gathered at the lake to support each other following the tragic discovery.

ABC7 Eyewitness News shared a heartbreaking image of her loved ones standing hand-in-hand at the dock before the announcement that a body was found.

Rivera's family reportedly looked out at the water and held each other.

"This hits home for everybody involved," Buschow said.

"Hopefully this provides some level of closure, whatever that means, for the family."

Rivera thought of the lake as her "sanctuary", as she had grown up 20 miles away, despite it being known for rip currents and icy waters that can overpower swimmers.

She had taken a photograph of her son on the boat and sent it to relatives just 90 minutes before Josey was found alone on the boat.

The photo showed a cove in the lake, which was where police focused their search.

Initially, cops had declined to reveal the identity of the remains, citing protocol, before Buschow confirmed the tragic news.

"We don't confirm identity until ME [medical examiner] verifies," he told The Sun.

The Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office did not have any additional information as of 1.10 pm local time.

KTLA reported that emergency crews and divers found the body floating in the lake "at first light" this morning.

Rivera played cheerleader Santana Lopez for six seasons on Glee and her death will mean she is the third cast member to die in their thirties.

Her body was found exactly seven years to the day that her co-star Cory Monteith died in a hotel room in Vancouver.

Cory Monteith died at 31 in 2013 from a toxic mix of alcohol and heroin, while his co-star Mark Salling – who Rivera dated at one point – killed himself in 2018 at 35 after pleading guilty to child pornography charges.

Naya’s former cast mates have paid tribute to the actress, with Kevin McHale said on Twitter he believed Cory Monteith "helped" find Naya Rivera's body,

He wrote: “I’m not religious by any means, but you'd be hard-pressed to convince me that Cory didn't help find our girl today.

“These 2, in many ways, were the male and female versions of one another. So nice, cared deeply, were stupidly talented, the most fun, and really really good people.”

In a touching tribute to Naya, he also praised his late co-star for her “quick-witted” actions in saving her beloved son.

McHale wrote on Instagram: “The way that she loved her boy, it was truly Naya at her most peaceful.

“I’m thankful that Naya got that beautiful little boy back on that boat.

“I’m thankful he will have a strong family around him to protect him and tell him about his incredible mom.”

Jane Lynch also paid her respects on Twitter, writing on Monday: “Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were. Love and peace to your family.’”

Max Adler added to the social media tributes by posting several broken heart and crying emojis. 

Joshua Sussman wrote: '[Broken heart emoji] Naya, you will be missed so much [sad face emoji]”

Lea Michele also paid tribute to her late co-star, posting a black and white photo of Naya in one of her Glee costumes to her Instagram story.

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