The body of Naya Rivera, an actor best known for her work on the popular teen singing series Glee, was recovered on Monday, some five days after she went missing from a boat on a lake reservoir just outside Los Angeles. She was 33.
Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub told reporters at a news conference that based on the physical characteristics and condition of the body, as well as the location it was discovered, authorities were confident it was that of Rivera.
“Our hearts go out to Naya’s many friends and fans who have been holding out hope for the last few days,” Ayub said.
The actor had been reported missing Wednesday after her 4-year-old son, Josey, was found asleep and alone on a rented boat found drifting on Lake Piru. Aryub said the boy told investigators he had been swimming with his mother when she boosted him from behind into the boat and he then saw her disappear under the surface of the water.
Teams of divers and boat crews had been scouring the lake, but their efforts had been hampered by extremely poor water visibility.
Her body was found floating near the surface of the water shortly after 9:10 a.m., Ayub said searchers believe Rivera’s body had spent days tangled in shrubbery on the bed of the lake before it rose to the surface.
There were no indications of foul play or suicide, Ayub added.
Her body will be taken to the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s office for an autopsy and official identification.
Rivera rose to fame starring as Santana Lopez on Glee when it debuted in 2009 until the show ended in 2015. Lopez started out as a mean cheerleader, but developed into a more major role and a fan favorite as the series went on, particularly for the character’s romance with fellow cheerleader Brittany Pierce (Heather Morris).
After she was initially reported missing, Rivera’s former Glee cast members had expressed hope on social media for her safe discovery. Morris asked for people to pray for Rivera’s return. “We need all the prayers we can to bring our Naya back home to us,” she wrote on Instagram. “We need your love and light.”
“Love and hug on the people you can, while you can,” tweeted Chord Overstreet, who played Sam. “I love you. Everyone please send out your prayers.”
“I am hoping against hope,” tweeted Iqbal Theba (Principal Figgins), “this was all a big joke and she’ll appear from somewhere laughing her heart out.”
But hopes faded as the hours and days dragged on, with sheriff’s officials announcing Thursday the search for Rivera had turned into a recovery mission.
Over the weekend, Glee actors Amber Riley (Mercedes Jones) and Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams) hit back at what they said were inappropriate social media demands by some fans for public displays of grief.
Following the announcement that a body had been discovered, Jane Lynch, who played cheerleading coach Sue Sylvester on the show, tweeted ,”Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were. Love and peace to your family.”
Rivera’s body was recovered seven years to the day since her former costar Cory Monteith died from a drug overdose.
Born in 1987, Rivera first began working in Hollywood at just 7 months old, appearing in commercials.
As a child, she was cast in the sitcom The Royal Family opposite comedian Redd Foxx, but shortly after the show premiered he suffered a fatal heart attack as the two actors were rehearsing lines. The show ended soon after.
After appearing in small roles in various sitcoms in the 1990s including Family Matters, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Sinbad Show, work dried up until she landed the role on Glee at 22. The show’s first few seasons were an international phenomenon and Rivera became instantly famous.
One 2011 performance being shared widely since her disappearance showed her belting out a compilation of the Adele songs “Someone Like You” and “Rumor Has It.”
Rivera married actor Ryan Dorsey in 2014 and gave birth to their son, Josey, in 2015. She and Dorsey then divorced in 2018.
In a 2016 interview with BuzzFeed News, Rivera opened up about her decision to publish her autobiography, Sorry, Not Sorry. She recalled feeling uncomfortable after being asked a question by a fan in 2015 about what it felt like to be a role model for young girls – something that made her want to be more honest about her life.
“I was like, I don’t do anything to live up to that and people’s expectation of that. All I’ve ever really done … is portray a character someone else wrote,” she recalled. “Now I feel like if anybody looks up to me that’s 13 or 14, hopefully it’s because they may be going through the same thing I did – that’s the definition of being a role model.”