Naya Rivera and son Josey Hollis attend an event in Westwood, California. File/ AFP
"Glee” star Naya Rivera ’s 4-year-old son told investigators that his mother, whose body was found in a Southern California lake on Monday, boosted him back on to the deck of their rented boat before he looked back and saw her disappearing under the water, authorities said.
"She must have mustered enough energy to get her son back on the boat, but not enough to save herself,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said at a news conference.
The boy, Josey Hollis Dorsey, was found asleep and alone in a life vest on the drifting pontoon boat about three hours after they launched on Lake Piru northwest of Los Angeles, setting off a five-day search that ended with the discovery of the body of the 33-year-old floating near the surface early Monday, authorities said.
The mother and son had gone swimming, which was permitted in that part of the lake, Ayub said. She was not wearing a life vest.
Police have said there is no indication of foul play or that Rivera died by suicide. A post-mortem examination will follow.
Rivera went missing on 8 July after renting a pontoon boat at Lake Piru, about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles, with her four-year-old son.
An extensive search and recovery effort ensued to locate the missing actor.
Rivera’s four-year-old son previously told police that he and his mother went swimming but she didn’t get back into the boat.
The boy was found asleep on the boat while wearing a life jacket.
An adult-sized life jacket was also found onboard along with some of Rivera‘s belongings.
Rivera began her acting career at a young age before rising to international fame thanks to her portrayal of cheerleader Santana Lopez on Glee, which aired on Fox between 2009 and 2015.
She became a show regular in the second season as she struggled to reveal her character’s sexual identity. Many on social media credited her character for making them feel better about their own sexuality.
“Honestly, I never thought I’d actually be playing a teen lesbian,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “I didn’t think it was going to go this far. But I’m glad that it did, because there have been a lot of fans who have expressed that they’ve been going through similar situations in their lives. I’ve heard from girls that are in high school, they’re 16, 17, and they’re like, ‘I came out to my mom,’ or ‘I came out to my friends, and thank you for helping me do that.’”
Some of her more memorable songs on the show include a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” with guest star Gwyneth Paltrow, “Here Comes the Sun” with Demi Lovato, and a tearful cover of The Band Perry’s “If I Die Young.”
“It would be an understatement to say that Glee changed my life. It overhauled it. It got me out of debt. It helped to cement my career. And before the show, I’d never had a group of people I was that close with,” she wrote in her memoir, titled Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up.
“But while Glee changed our lives, it didn’t necessarily change who we were. We started the show as a ragtag group of misfits, and six seasons later, when we filmed the last episode, we were still the same bunch of misfits. Just now wearing more expensive jeans.”
After the show, Rivera sought success in film and music. She made her feature film debut in 2014’s At the Devil’s Door, playing a woman caught in the middle of supernatural events, and released the single “Sorry” in 2013 featuring rapper Big Sean, a one-time fiance.
She and actor Ryan Dorsey were married in 2014 and their son, Josey, was born in 2015. She called her young son “my greatest success, and I will never do any better than him”. Dorsey and Rivera divorced in 2018.
Most recently, Rivera had a role on Lifetime’s Devious Maids, released her memoir in 2016 and played school administrator Collette Jones in the YouTube Red online series Step Up: High Water starring Ne-Yo. The show is about a cutthroat performing arts school in Atlanta.
Rivera is survived by her parents, Yolanda and George; a younger brother, Mychal; a sister, Nickayla; and her son.
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