On July 8, the Glee star went boating with her four-year-old son, Josey Hollis Dorsey, who was found alone in the boat several hours later. Rivera’s body was recovered five days later, and the Ventura County authorities found her cause of death to be accidental drowning. Authorities believe that a strong current could have caused Rivera's unmoored pontoon to drift away, and that the actress mustered all her energy to help her son onto the boat before she could save herself.
Rivera was best known for her role as the bold Santana Lopez on Disney Channel's Glee. Her former co-stars on the show, as well as many other celebrities and fans, publicly expressed their sorrow and admiration for her talent and gumption. "While we grieve the loss of our beautiful legend, we are blessed to honour her everlasting legacy and magnetic spirit," her family wrote. "Naya was an amazing talent, but was an even greater person, mother, daughter and sister."
Following the findings from the medical examiner's office, Rivera's family thanked the local authorities at the Ventura, Tulare, and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Departments for their tireless work as they searched for her after she went missing, and especially called out a "heroine who found her." They also sent their gratitude for "the outpouring of love and prayers for Naya, Josey and our family over the past week," and kindly asked for privacy during this difficult time.
Along with her son Josey, Rivera leaves behind her parents, Yolanda and George, as well as her brother Mychal and sister Nickayla.