‘Glee’ Star Tragically Drowns in Lake Piru, California

By Lexie Kauffman ‘22

On July 8, 2020, actress Naya Rivera took her son out for a fun day on the lake at Lake Piru, California. What was meant to be some summer fun ended tragically. Rivera was most well-known for her portrayal of cheerleader, Santana Lopez, on the Fox show Glee, running from 2009-2015. Rivera played the quick-witted Latina lesbian cheerleader proudly, bringing representation to screens across the globe.

Rivera, 33, was declared missing on July 8 when a boat rental employee found her son, Josey Dorsey, alone on their rented pontoon boat. For the next five days, local officials, diving teams, and Rivera’s family and friends searched for her. Across social media, her family, friends, and fans pleaded and prayed for her safe return.

The search and rescue teams and divers struggled in their searches. The bottom of Lake Piru has a lot of debris and underwater foliage, making underwater searches almost impossible. In their searches, local officials used sonar technology and cadaver dogs, to assist in locating the missing actress.

On July 13, 2020, Rivera’s family was joined by many of her friends and old castmates, including Heather Morris, Kevin Mchale, Jenna Ushkowitiz, Chris Colfer, and Amber Riley: fellow Glee actors. The gathered loved ones prayed for her return. Their prayers were answered as Rivera’s body surfaced that morning.

The autopsy revealed no foul play, indicating that Rivera drowned. Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub discussed what officials believed happened to Rivera in a press conference on July 13, 2020.

“She mustered enough energy to get her son back onto the boat, but not enough to save herself,” Ayub explained.

Officials believe that Rivera, who was not wearing a life jacket, was swimming with her son when the current changed. Using her son’s description of the event, they believe that she pushed her son onto the boat as it was pulled away before disappearing below the surface.

Sadly, the Glee cast are not strangers to tragedy. On July 13, 2013, exactly seven years before, Glee’s leading man, Corey Monteith died of an accidental overdose. The beloved actor’s loss shook the show, which was only in its fifth season. Rivera’s ex-costar, Mark Salling, has also died.

Since the confirmation of her death, many of her loved ones have turned to social media to honor their friend. Chris Colfer, Kurt Hummel on Glee, wrote a lengthy post on Instagram attached to an image of him and Rivera.

“How can you convey all your love and respect for someone in one post? How can you summarize a decade of friendship and laughter with words alone? If you were friends with Naya Rivera, you simply can’t.”

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