Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said at an afternoon news conference he was confident that, based on physical descriptions, a body found this morning near the surface of the water in the northeastern part of Lake Piru is that of Rivera, who is now confirmed dead at age 33. Ayub believes Rivera had enough energy to save her 4-year-old son, but not herself. “It would be speculation to say at this point," he said. "There are a lot of currents on the lake that appear particularly in the afternoon. 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 onto the boat, but not enough to save herself.” The area was searched extensively by dive crews and with sonar equipment over the last several days, said Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Buschow. “That particular area, when it was searched by divers, they were literally crawling on hands and knees at bottom of the lake attached by ropes so they could make their way back out because visibility is so poor,” Buschow said. “That gives you kind of an idea of what the conditions were like.” The body was likely submerged for days before surfacing this morning. The Los Angeles Times reports authorities were able to narrow down their search based on a photo Rivera sent from the lake to a relative of her son in front of a cove before she disappeared allowed divers to work a grid near the location. “Anytime we do a search like this, we look at all the possibilities, but the highest probability, based on the evidence we have, is that she went in the water and did not come out,” Buschow said.
Naya Rivera took a basic character and made her unforgettable: The late Glee star "was a fearsome screen presence who made meals out of whatever crumbs she got," says Caroline Framke. "While she began her TV career sparkling with winsome charm as a child actor on sitcoms like Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, it was on Glee that she got to prove the full breadth of what she could do. In Santana Lopez, Rivera took a flat character and made her vital by the sheer force of her inarguable charisma. The role that made Rivera famous — and is now her most memorable, period, after her tragic death at just 33 years old — shouldn’t have been half as magnetic as it immediately became with her in it. When first introduced, Santana Lopez was just a bitchy cheerleader — the smirky, sexed-up Latina counterpart for Quinn (Dianna Agron), the show’s blonde heroine teetering atop the pyramid with a delicate smile. To balance out and humanize Quinn, Santana had to be leaner, meaner, and sometimes downright cruel. Rivera accomplished that, fueling Santana with deft comic timing and a palpable fury that pulsed through her every withering insult. Once it became clear that Rivera could take a sharp line and stab someone between the ribs with it before they even noticed, Santana got to deliver some of the show’s most devastating burns and raze the ground where her clueless peers once stood."
Naya Rivera was the best part of Glee: "It’s one of those pop-culture moments that doesn’t just dazzle, it imprints. It becomes the thing you don’t recall just to be entertained, but to feel," says Kevin Fallon. Naya Rivera’s performance of 'Rumour Has It/Someone Like You' in the third season of Glee was a revelation. We didn’t know that this character, let alone this performer, had that—THAT—in her. That was the point of that episode, too. It might rank among the best the show produced, back in the time when Glee was in that conversation about the best TV had to offer. Here was a character we had been conditioned to judge and dismiss as just a bully. But as Rivera belted and her heart came out her throat, we learned so much more—about her, about Santana on the show, about queer angst, about the struggle for people of color, about asserting your worth. It is in line with the spirit of the show that the entire sentence preceding this reads as absolutely insufferable. It is also in line with the spirit of the show that you not only forgive, but embrace that very thing...and credit Rivera for being the key to honing the tone that let Glee get away with it. And, in doing so, change lives."
Rivera played Santana Lopez with heart, making her a true villain you can root for: "When I watched Glee as an older teen, I found myself drawn to Rivera’s character Santana Lopez," says Princess Weekes. "She was beautiful, fierce, and had amazing vocals. I’ll always remember her cover of 'Like a Virgin' and thinking about how amazing she sounded. I loved that she was so unapologetic, a true villain at times, yet you could root for her because Naya Rivera played the character with such heart. But the biggest thing for me is that the character of Santana helped me come to terms with my own bisexuality. 'Brittana' (the ship name for Santana/Brittany) is one of the first wlw couples I remember actively rooting for and crying over. I cried with Santana as she confessed her love for Brittany only to be just too late at the time. Santana being outed by Finn was a moment I will never forget, and how it broke me. Even after I stopped watching Glee, I would check Tumblr to make sure she was still thriving—and she was. In the end, Santana and Brittany did end up together. She got to win and live her truth openly with the woman she loved. That meant something to me, and it still touches my heart. That character and the way Naya played her will always mean something so powerful to me. Forever."
Rivera was set to reprise her Step Up: High Water character on Starz: The actress' death comes less than two months after Starz announced it was rebooting the YouTube series as Step Up with Ne-Yo and Rivera returning to their roles and Tricia Helfer joining the cast. Deadline reports some scripts were already written, but the storyline will have to be rewritten following Rivera's death. “Our hearts go out to Naya Rivera’s family, especially her young child, in response to the tragic news of her passing,” Starz and Lionsgate said in a joint statement. “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.”
Glee alums Kevin McHale, Chris Colfer, Darren Criss, Becca Tobin, Alex Newell and Jenna Ushkowitz post lengthy tributes to Rivera: "How can you convey all your love and respect for someone in one post?" wrote Colfer. "How can you summarize a decade of friendship and laughter with words alone? If you were friends with Naya Rivera, you simply can’t. Her brilliance and humor were unmatched. 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. She inspired and uplifted people without even trying. Being close to her was both a badge of honor and a suit of armor. Naya was truly one of a kind, and she always will be."
Countless queer women saw themselves represented by Rivera's lesbian Glee character: Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Pretty Little Liars, The O.C. and Once and Again depicted lesbian relationships. But, says Martha Sorren, "Santana and Brittany's relationship on Glee felt different, and far more relatable, than those other portrayals. To start, the girls were regular high schoolers — not vampire hunters or, in the case of Pretty Little Liars, teen sleuths being stalked by a psychopathic texter. I could actually see myself in these Glee characters, who dealt with regular problems like friendship troubles and homework while having crushes and falling in love. I'll never forget how much those moments between Santana and Brittany meant to me, from their first kiss (which was also my first time seeing a female same-sex kiss on television) to the time they went to the school dance together to their exchange of I love yous. Thanks to Glee, I started to better understand myself, and realized that my feelings for my own female best friend were deeper than just friendship—just like how Santana's feelings for Brittany developed. And while Rivera's character struggled with some people not accepting who she was, she was able to overcome much of that with the support of Brittany, her other friends, and her own strength."