Naya Rivera's cause of death revealed as her family issues statement: 'Heaven gained our sassy angel'


Naya Rivera’s cause of death has been confirmed as drowning, one day after her body was discovered. The Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office said on Tuesday there’s “no indication” drugs or alcohol played a role in the tragic accident.

“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 report, obtained by Yahoo Entertainment, reads. “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.”

The office concluded, “There is no indication from the investigation or examination that drugs or alcohol played a role in the decedent’s death, but specimens will be submitted for toxicology testing.”

Rivera’s family issued a statement to Deadline on Tuesday afternoon, saying, “Heaven gained our sassy angel.” They asked for privacy during this difficult time.

“We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and prayers for Naya, Josey and our family over the past week. While we grieve the loss of our beautiful legend, we are blessed to honor her everlasting legacy and magnetic spirit. Naya was an amazing talent, but was an even greater person, mother, daughter and sister,” they said via Rivera’s manager, Gladys Gonzalez.

The medical examiner's office confirmed on Tuesday Naya Rivera drowned, nearly one week after she went missing
The medical examiner's office confirmed on Tuesday Naya Rivera drowned, nearly one week after she went missing. (Photo: Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images)

The family thanked everyone who was involved with the search and recovery mission.

“Thank you to the men and women of the Ventura, Tulare, and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Departments for your commitment and unwavering effort to find Naya. We extend endless gratitude and ovation to the heroine who found her. Thank you to her friends, colleagues, and fans for your continuous support,” they concluded. “Heaven gained our sassy angel. We kindly request that our privacy be respected during this very difficult time.”

Rivera, 33, went missing on July 8 at Lake Piru, about an hour outside of Los Angeles, Calif. The Glee star rented a pontoon boat for her and her 4-year-old son, Josey, but never returned from a swimming excursion with her boy. According to investigators, it’s believed she saved her son’s life over her own when the boat started to drift as there are currents in the lake in the afternoons.

“We believe it was mid-afternoon when she disappeared, the idea perhaps being that 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,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub shared at Monday’s press conference.

Rivera’s son told investigators that he and his mom had been swimming and that she “boosted him” onto the deck of the boat from behind. “He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water,” Ayub noted.

While friends and family are mourning Rivera’s death, many are not surprised her last act was a selfless one. She often talked about her special bond with her son.

Earlier on Tuesday, Glee creators Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan shared an emotional tribute, saying they’re “heartbroken over the loss of our friend Naya Rivera.”

“Naya wasn’t a series regular when we cast her on Glee,” they recalled in a joint statement to Yahoo Entertainment. “She didn’t have more than a few lines in the pilot. But it didn’t take more than an episode or two for us to realize that we had lucked into finding one of the most talented, special stars we would ever have the pleasure of working with. Naya could act, she could dance and she could sing (could she ever sing!). She could nail a joke as well as she could crush you with an emotional scene. She could move between being scary tough and deeply vulnerable with ease. She was a joy to write for, a joy to direct and a joy to be around.”

Murphy, Falchuk and Brennan honored some of Rivera’s “iconic” musical performances — like the Adele mash up, “Valerie” and “Songbird” — but said Rivera’s “greatest Glee legacy is probably the humor and humanity that she brought to Santana’s relationship with her best friend and eventual girlfriend/wife Brittany (played by Heather Morris).”

“It was one of the first times an openly lesbian, high school relationship was seen on network television and Naya understood what ‘Brittana’ meant to the many young women who were seeing themselves represented on television for the first time. Naya always made sure that Santana’s love for Brittany was expressed with dignity, strength and with pure intentions. Naya was always moved by the girls who reached out to her to tell her how much Santana and Brittany’s love affected them. Naya’s obligation to them — and to all of her fans was obvious. She had the rare combination of humility and endless confidence in her talent,” they continued.

“Naya was a real pro. Always on time, always knew her lines (which wasn’t easy considering the giant mouthfuls of dialogue we often gave her), always kept everyone laughing on the set. She was warm and caring and fiercely protective of the rest of the cast. She was tough and demanding. She was fun. She was kind. She was generous,” they recalled. “There were ups and downs during the wonderful and stressful years we spent making Glee. We disagreed, we fought, we made up, then we fought some more, and then we made up again. The kinds of things that happen in a family. Naya was more than just an actor on our show — she was our friend.”

Murphy, Falchuk and Brennan concluded by announcing they are working to set up a college fund for Rivera’s son.

“Our hearts go out to her family, especially her mom, Yolanda who was big part of the Glee family and her son Josey. The three of us are currently in the process of creating a college fund for the beautiful son Naya loved most of all,” they shared.

Rivera shares Josey Dorsey with ex-husband, actor Ryan Dorsey. He will turn 5 in September.

Watch — Investigators say Rivera used her final moments to save her son:

[Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect the Riveras statement.]

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