The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed Tuesday that Rivera’s cause of death was drowning, following the completion of an autopsy report. The manner of death is listed as an accident.
The date of the pronouncement is listed as Monday, July 13.
Per a press release from the medical examiner and obtained by Fox News, “On the morning of July 13, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office was notified that the body of a woman believed to be 33-year-old Naya Marie Rivera was recovered from the waters of Lake Piru in Ventura County, California.
“The circumstances and visual characteristics all indicated that the body was that of Naya Rivera and the identity has been confirmed by dental comparison,” the release continues. “The body has been X-rayed and a full autopsy has been performed. The autopsy findings are consistent with a drowning and the condition of the body is consistent with the time that she was submerged. No traumatic injuries or disease processes were identified at autopsy.”
According to the release, “There is no indication from the investigation or examination that drugs or alcohol played a role” in Rivera’s death, “but specimens will be submitted for toxicology testing.”
Rivera was the subject of a massive search effort led by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office that lasted five days after she rented a pontoon boat with her 4-year-old son, Josey, and went missing. Police confirmed on Monday that a body had been found at the northeast corner of Lake Piru. Hours later at a press conference, authorities said they were “confident” it was the former “Glee” star.
Rivera and her son went swimming during their excursion – he was wearing a life jacket but she wasn’t – and he got back into the boat but she didn’t, the sheriff’s department said.
The child was found safe on the boat three hours later by another boater, according to KCAL-TV in Los Angeles. According to Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, Josey told investigators that his mother helped him get back on board the boat. He then looked back and saw her disappear into the water.
According to Ayub, the water “is between 35 and 60 feet deep” in the area where the body was found, “and there’s heavy brush and trees on the lake bed there.”
The sheriff said that Rivera’s family “has expressed their gratitude to all those involved in the search efforts.”
Low visibility played a factor in how long it took authorities to find her body. Captain Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department told Fox News the crew suspended its search efforts at 10 p.m. Wednesday, the first night of the search, due to the dark conditions.
“Our divers couldn’t see anything and it was becoming dangerous for them,” he added. The search ended at sundown on subsequent days until her body was discovered on Monday.
A native of Santa Clarita, Calif., Rivera began acting at age 4, appearing in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “Family Matters” and “The Bernie Mac Show.”
She auditioned for her role as Santana Lopez by singing Destiny’s Child’s “Emotion.” The pilot offered her no speaking lines.
The actress is perhaps best known for playing Santana Lopez on “Glee” between 2009 and 2015. Santana was a cheerleader in the musical-comedy and appeared on 113 episodes of the series. Santana was one of the many LGBTQ characters in the show.
“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,” 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment said in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.
Rivera played a secondary character — the mean cheerleader with blistering put-downs — in the show’s first season, but 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.
“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 2016 memoir titled, “Sorry Not Sorry: Dreams, Mistakes, and Growing Up.”
Rivera’s 4-year-old son is from a marriage with actor Ryan Dorsey. The couple finalized their divorce in June 2018 after nearly four years of marriage. She wrote in her memoir that her son was “my greatest success, and I will never do any better than him.”
In the memoir, she also discussed the difficulties of coming up in show business as a mixed-race actress.
“At auditions, my mother would fill out the forms with all my basic information, and when it came to the question about race, she’d always check the ‘other’ box, and then write out exactly what I was: one-quarter African-American, one-quarter German and one-half Puerto Rican,” Rivera wrote at the time. “Mom made sure to instill my racial identity in me as well. ‘People are always going to ask my kids what they are,’ she said. ‘And it’s important that they know.’”
She previously dated her co-star Mark Salling, who killed himself in 2018 after pleading guilty to child pornography charges. The actress was engaged to rapper Big Sean in 2013, but their relationship ended a year later. The pair met on Twitter and collaborated musically, with the rapper appearing on Rivera’s debut single “Sorry.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.