Naya Rivera’s family speak out after Glee star's death: 'Heaven gained our sassy angel'

Gillian Wolski
·Lifestyle & Entertainment Producer
·3 min read
Naya Rivera attends the Women's Guild Cedars-Sinai annual luncheon at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on November 06, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
Naya Rivera attends the Women's Guild Cedars-Sinai annual luncheon at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on November 06, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)

Naya Rivera has been remembered as a ‘sassy angel’ by her family members in their first public statement since the US actor’s tragic passing at the age of 33.

The Glee star’s body was found on Monday after she went missing five days earlier during a boating trip with her four-year-old son, Josey, on California’s Lake Piru.

“We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and prayers for Naya, Josey and our family over the past week,” Naya’s manager Gladys Gonzalez told Deadline in a statement on behalf of the family on Wednesday.

Read more: Tributes pour in for Naya Rivera

“While we grieve the loss of our beautiful legend, we are blessed to honour her everlasting legacy and magnetic spirit. Naya was an amazing talent, but was an even greater person, mother, daughter and sister,” it continued.

Late actor Naya Rivera and her mother, Yolanda. Photo: Instagram/nayarivera.
Late actor Naya Rivera and her mother, Yolanda. Photo: Instagram/nayarivera.

Naya’s family went on to thank various local sheriff's departments for their ‘commitment and unwavering effort’ to find the mum-of-one’s body as well as the ‘heroine’ who found her.

“Thank you to her friends, colleagues, and fans for your continuous support. Heaven gained our sassy angel. We kindly request that our privacy be respected during this very difficult time,” the statement concluded.

Naya is survived by her mother Yolanda and father George Rivera and two younger siblings: brother Mychal Rivera, a former NFL player, and a sister, model Nickayla Rivera. She shared son Josey with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey.

Shortly before Naya’s family released their statement, the results of the star’s autopsy confirmed that she died by drowning.

Naya Rivera's autopsy has confirmed she accidentally drowned with no indication drugs or alcohol played a part in her death. Photo: Getty
Naya's autopsy confirmed she accidentally drowned with no indication drugs or alcohol played a part in her death. Photo: Getty

“Officials say the autopsy findings are consistent with a drowning and the condition of the body is consistent with the time that she was submerged,” TMZ quoted an official from the Ventura County Medical Examiner's Office.

Officials also revealed that there was no evidence that drugs or alcohol played a role in Naya’s death, but that ‘specimens will be submitted for toxicology testing’.

Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub stated at the scene that there was nothing to indicate foul play or that she had taken her own life. It was simply a tragic accidental drowning.

Naya Rivera kisses her four-year-old son, Josey
The Glee star drowned while on a boating trip with her four-year-old son, Josey. Photo: Instagram/nayarivera.

He said that the current was very strong the day Naya went missing and that the boat Naya and her son had rented hadn't been anchored when they went for a swim.

Josey said the pair went swimming and he was helped back up on to the boat by his mum, “who boosted him on to the deck from behind”.

“He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water.”

The Sheriff speculated, "Perhaps the boat started drifting, it was unanchored and that she mustered enough energy to get her son back on to the boat but not enough to save herself."

Josey was found wearing his life jacket and wrapped in a towel a few hours later by a leasing agent, after Naya failed to return the boat.

Search crews found Naya’s body floating in the northeast area of the lake and the county medical examiner was notified, authorities said on Monday.

Naya played singing cheerleader Santana Lopez for six seasons on the Fox musical comedy Glee. The show’s creators have since announced that they’ve set up a college fund for Josey while Naya’s co-stars — including Lea Michele and Darren Criss — also paid tribute.

Additional reporting by Marni Dixit.