How did Naya Rivera die? Authorities confirmed her death on Monday, July 13, after her body was discovered in Lake Piru, and her cause of death was determined to be an accidental drowning by a medical examiner on Tuesday, July 14. An autopsy supported what investigators already suspected after sharing their theory about what happened during a press conference on the 13th. Based on where her body was found and the information her son, Josey Hollis Dorsey, gave them, they believe she drowned while swimming after her boat started drifting away.

“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,” Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub explained during the press conference.

Naya Rivera

“We know from speaking with her son that he and Naya swam in the lake together at some point during their journey,” he continued. “It was during that time that her son described being helped into the boat by Naya, who boosted him to the deck from behind. He told investigators that he looked back and saw her disappear under the surface of the water.”

It seems Rivera, 33, used her final moments to make sure she got her son to safety, but she was unable to do the same for herself. It also appears that she wasn’t wearing a life vest at the time. Josey, 4, was wearing a child’s size, but an adult version was found on the boat with him after his mother disappeared. When Rivera’s body surfaced, it was without a life vest.

Naya Rivera and Son Josey Dorsey
Matt Baron/Shutterstock

Though swimming is allowed at Lake Piru, authorities told In Touch during the course of the search that the waters can be particularly treacherous. “People drown in California lakes every year,” Captain Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office told In Touch on July 9, one day after Rivera went missing. “These big reservoirs, there is a lot that goes on. There are plenty of currents. … The wind kicks up and it can get choppy.”

The water at Lake Piru is filled with brush and foliage, which can make it easy to get caught on something under the water. It can also make swimming to shore an extremely difficult task. While Josey was found in the boat only 15 feet from the shore, the growth on the lakebed would’ve made it difficult for Rivera to swim to the edge and climb out. “It’s not like you can just get out and walk up that shoreline,” Buschow said.

Authorities are still hoping to get to the bottom of exactly what happened, but they don’t believe Rivera’s death was anything more than an unfortunate accident.

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