Naya Rivera’s family recalls the ‘absolute hell’ of waiting for her body to be recovered 1 year ago

Naya Rivera’s mother and sister remember the fateful day of the Glee star’s accidental drowning — one year ago — and the aftermath as they waited for her body to be recovered.

Yolanda Previtire said on Thursday’s Good Morning America that her daughter FaceTimed her from the rented pontoon boat she and her son, Josey Dorsey, were on in California’s Lake Piru on July 8, 2020. Screenshots Previtire took off that call later helped search teams find the body of the actress/singer/dancer who died, at age 33, after getting Josey to safety. Nickayla Rivera, the star’s younger sister, also talked about helping raise Josey with Naya’s ex-husband Ryan Dorsey.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MAY 05:  Actress Naya Rivera attends the 24th annual Race To Erase MS Gala at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on May 5, 2017 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic for Fashion Media)

It’s been one year since Naya Rivera’s death. (Photo: Paul Archuleta/FilmMagic for Fashion Media)

“I missed two of her FaceTime calls, and I called her back,” Previtire recalled. “I said, ‘Naya, Where are you?'” She said Naya explained she wanted to take Josey fishing. “We had a beautiful conversation. The sun was kissing her face and she was just beautiful. She had a white, beautiful swimming suit on and she was glowing.”

Previtire took screenshots during the call to capture Josey fishing, she said. However, as they were getting off, she told her daughter, “The water’s getting choppy,” and urged Naya to move the boat to a cove where the water may be “a little bit calmer.” 

Before they disconnected Previtire said, “I love you” and “Call me when you get off the water.”

Previtire said hours later, two detectives came to her door to tell her that Josey was safe, having been found in his life jacket alone on the drifting boat, but Naya was missing.

“It was almost like a force,” she said of absorbing that news. “I don’t know what it was, but I literally was just pushed backwards. I just ran backwards, if you can imagine, just screaming and I ended up in the bathroom. I slammed the door, I was on the floor.”

A helicopter searches over Lake Piru in Ventura County, California on July 9, 2020 for former Glee actress Naya Rivera, who was reported missing after going boating with her son on July 8. -

A helicopter searches for Naya Rivera over Lake Piru in Ventura County, Calif. on July 9, 2020. (Photo: Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)

Nickayla said the days that followed, as search teams combed the lake were “absolute hell,” despite support from fans and Glee stars praying from the shore. 

Previtire said the screenshots she took were used by investigators who looked “at the topography” to hone in on exactly where Naya had been boating.

When Naya’s body was found, on July 13, Nickayla said it was “a relief, in a way” after those five hellish days of unsuccessful searching. 

PIRU, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 03:  A memorial set up by fans to honor actress Naya Rivera at Lake Piru, where Rivera's death was ruled an accidental drowning, on August 3, 2020 in Piru, California. Rivera was declared missing July 8 after her four-year-old son, Josey, was found alone on a boat she had rented. Her body was recovered by search and rescue workers at Lake Piru on July 13.  (Photo by Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

A memorial set up by fans to honor actress Naya Rivera at Lake Piru. (Photo: Amy Sussman/Getty Images)

Previtire said she got the call about Naya’s body being recovered while she was making pancakes for Josey to take a break from the constant vigil at the lake.

As Dorsey shared, Josey asked for Nickayla to move in with them after Naya’s death.

“I’m very grateful to be able to help him transition into whatever he’s going to be next,” said the model. “I knew right when it happened, right when we got him, I knew the role that I had to take. That was a big change, and something that I had to get used to too.”

Naya's mother, Yolanda Previtire, and sister, Nickayla Rivera, appeared on Good Morning America in an interview airing on the one-year anniversary of the Glee star's drowning death. (Screenshot: Good Morning America/NBC)

Naya’s mother, Yolanda Previtire, and sister, Nickayla Rivera, appeared on Good Morning America in an interview airing on the one-year anniversary of the Glee star’s drowning death. (Screenshot: Good Morning America/NBC)

Previtire reports that her grandson “Naya in boy form.” Josey, who enters kindergarten in the fall, loves to entertain, especially sing, and has a true “adventure for life” like the star did.

Nickayla said they approach life “one day at a time,” as they work through their grief. “And taking that one day at a time and living it to the fullest, loving each other to the fullest, and not regretting anything. Because I know if we could go back, we’d hug a little bit harder.” 

Previtire revealed the family is in therapy to cope with the shared trauma. She said they don’t tiptoe around discussing Naya around Josey, noting that “he misses his mom” and “recalls their life together.”

Naya was laid to rest on July 24. Investigators ruled her death was due to accidental drowning. Josey told investigators, they jumped in together to swim. It was theorized that the boat started to drift while the two were in the water. The boy also said Naya got him up on the boat, but he heard her yell “help” before she disappeared into the water. He was later found asleep on the boat in his life jacket.

Naya was not in a life jacket when her body was uncovered. Her autopsy noted Naya was a “good swimmer.” However, there were high winds of 21 mph the afternoon she went missing. It was also noted she had vertigo, the sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving, “that would get worse when she was in the water.”

Naya’s ex Dorsey shares updates of their son on social media and promised the boy will grow up knowing “his momma loved him more than life.”

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