Glee star Naya Rivera died saving her four-year-old son before drowning in the 160ft waters of murky Lake Piru, and the young boy was found hours later, asleep alone on their boat
Naya Rivera should have turned 35 on Wednesday.
Instead, her heartbroken family will be marking a year and a half without the Glee star after her tragic death in July 2020.
She took her four-year-old son Josey on a boating trip in Lake Piru, something which should have been fun and relatively easy for Naya as she was a strong swimmer with sailing experience – the actress had even visited the lake before on several occasions.
But while Josey would return from the 1,200-acre lake alive, he was alone.
Lake Piru in California claimed the lives of at least seven people between 1994-2000, and the murky waters are up to 160ft deep with enormous underwater trees that can keep bodies tangled in their tight grip.
Naya was reported to have declined a life jacket while arranging to rent the boat, opting for one for Josey only – but a member of staff ensured she had one of her own on board anyway.
G et the news you want straight to your inbox. Sign up for a Mirror newsletter here .
Mother and son set off for their exciting trip on July 8, 2020 at around 1pm, and they jumped into the water for a swim at an area known as ‘Diablo Cove’.
They were expected back at 4pm, and when they did not return, a search began.
At 5pm, horrified rescuers found Josey alone in the boat, fast asleep.
Details of the autopsy shared with PA in Los Angeles stated that shortly after their swim, Naya pushed Josey back on to the boat.
Officials suggested they may have been caught in a powerful rip current making it difficult to stay afloat, while also battling strong winds and freezing cold water.
AFP via Getty Images)
But the exact circumstances that led to Naya’s death will never be fully known.
“When the child looked back, he saw his mother put her arm in the air and shout ‘help’,” according to the report.
“Boat rental worker Bryan Tomaszewski went looking for the rented vessel when it was not returned on time and found Josey wrapped in a towel, wearing a life vest and asleep.”
The report added: “A spare adult-sized life jacket was also on the boat, along with Rivera’s possessions including her bag and mobile phone.”
In Naya’s final moments, she is believed to have mustered her last dregs of energy to push her son back on to the boat, saving his life, before succumbing to the water herself.
Josey told officers he looked back and his mum had already vanished into the water.
A search for her body ensued, with Naya’s Glee co-stars even arriving to help look for her – in fact, so many people tried to help, authorities were forced to ask people to go back home so as not to risk more people drowning.
But rescuers battled poor visibility, so sonar and sniffer dogs were also used, and Ventura County sheriff’s office sergeant Kevin Donoghue compared the search to “finding a needle in a haystack”.
“The surface area of the lake is large and your visibility underwater is limited. This area is notorious for the winds,” he said.
Five days later, Naya’s body was found, with the sheriff’s office stating it was likely she had been trapped in vegetation underwater before resurfacing.
Her death certificate stated it was likely she passed away ‘within minutes’, and the medical examiner ruled her death was an accidental drowning.
What made Naya’s death even more harrowing was that the boating trip was a last minute.
The actress had initially planned to enjoy a BBQ at the lake, before changing her mind and opting to hire a boat, according to her mother, Yolanda.
In the weeks following Naya’s death, there were countless heartfelt tributes as friends and fans reflected upon the talented actress’ legacy.
A memorial was held at the side of the lake and the cast of Glee were pictured at Lake Piru as the world mourned her loss.
Jane Lynch wrote: “Rest sweet, Naya. What a force you were. Love and peace to your family.”
Kevin McHale added: “She was so independent and strong and the idea of her not being here is something I cannot comprehend.”
Last September, Josey marked another birthday without his mum as he turned six.
His father, Naya’s ex-boyfriend Ryan Dorsey, took to his Instagram page to gush over his “spectacular boy” along with some adorable snaps of his Batman-themed birthday party.
He captioned the series of photos: “The baby boy @joseydorsey is 6!!
“Two thousand one hundred ninety+ days old. My sweet, smart, spectacular boy, every day is a gift, I love you more every day and am so proud to call you my son.”
Do you have a story to share? Email email@example.com