Actress and singer Naya Rivera, who rose to stardom on the Fox musical Glee, has died in a drowning accident; she was just 33 years old. Rivera’s body was recovered in California’s Lake Piru on Monday morning, five days after she was first reported missing. The Ventura County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the grim news at a press conference Monday afternoon.
“There was no indication of foul play, and no indication this was a suicide,” Sheriff Bill Ayub told reporters. “Our hearts go out to Naya’s many friends and fans, who have been holding out hope for the best.” The county medical examiner officially ruled Rivera’s death an accidental drowning on Tuesday.
Ventura officials sent more than 50 personnel, along with a helicopter and divers, to look for Rivera, who rented a boat on Lake Piru on July 8 to go swimming with her four-year-old son Josey. The boy was later found alone in the boat, with no sign of Rivera, and a search ensued. Within 24 hours, the search and rescue mission had officially turned into a recovery mission, with little chance of finding Rivera alive. Fans and friends still held out hope, though, with her former Glee co-star Heather Morris even volunteering to assist in the search effort.
After starting her career as a child actress on shows like the CBS sitcom The Royal Family, Rivera was cast as mean-girl cheerleader Santana Lopez on Fox’s Glee in 2009. The show became a pop-culture phenomenon, and Rivera was promoted to series regular in Season 2, playing a key role in the show’s teen ensemble and contributing to the soundtrack. She stepped back to a recurring role in Glee‘s sixth and final season, with Santana marrying her former cheerleader teammate Brittany, played by Morris. (See our list of Rivera’s best Glee performances.)
“Her brilliance and humor were unmatched,” Glee co-star Chris Colfer wrote on Instagram. “Her beauty and talent were otherworldly. She spoke truth to power with poise and fearlessness. She could turn a bad day into a great day with a single remark.” (Read more tributes from the Glee cast.)
Fox and Glee producers 20th Century Fox TV tweeted out a tribute to Rivera as well: “Naya Rivera was a fierce talent with so much more to do [and] this is such a terrible tragedy. We are forever grateful for the indelible contribution she made to Glee, from the first episode to the last. Our hearts are broken and our thoughts go out to Naya’s family, friends and young son.”
After Glee went off the air in 2015, Rivera played housemaid Blanca Alvarez on Lifetime’s Devious Maids, along with a guest voice role on American Dad! and a guest judge appearance on RuPaul’s Drag Race. She also recurred on the YouTube dance series Step Up: High Water and was set to star in the show’s upcoming third season after it was revived by Starz.
In a statement, a Starz rep said, “Our hearts go out to Naya Rivera’s family, especially her young child, in response to the tragic news of her passing. She was a vibrant and luminous talent who will always remain a very special part of our Step Up family. Her remarkable contributions to our industry created a lasting memory that will be carried forward by everyone who had the privilege of knowing her.”
This is just the latest tragedy to befall the cast of Glee. On this day in July 2013, Cory Monteith, who played Finn Hudson on the Fox phenom, died of an accidental drug overdose after taking a lethal combination of heroin and alcohol. Three years later, co-star Mark Salling died by suicide following his conviction for possession of child pornography.