Naya Rivera's mother details 'heavy' grief, one year after her death

Naya Rivera’s mother says grief over Glee star’s death gets so ‘heavy’ that her family is ‘afraid for themselves’ and reveals they’re in therapy to deal with the trauma, as she marks one-year anniversary of her daughter’s tragic drowning

  • Naya’s mother, Yolanda Previtire, and her younger sister, Nickayla Rivera, appeared on GMA on Thursday to mark the one-year anniversary of her death
  • Yolanda admitted that the grief they are still experiencing becomes too much for them to bear at times, saying the family is sometimes ‘afraid for themselves’ 
  • She revealed that Naya’s family has been doing therapy in the wake of her death to try and deal with their shared trauma 
  • Nickayla said that her sister’s death has taught the family to ‘live to the fullest’, explaining that they all would ‘hug a little harder’ if they could go back in time  
  • Glee star Naya drowned on July 8, 2020, after going for a swim in Lake Piru, California, with her then-four-year-old son Josey Hollis Dorsey 
  • Naya, who was 33 when she died, had rented a pontoon boat for her and her son, who told investigators that his mother had disappeared under the water 
  • Josey was found asleep on the rental boat, while Naya was pronounced missing and presumed dead; her body was found five days later  

Naya Rivera’s mother has opened up about the Glee star’s family ongoing struggle to come to terms with their grief over her tragic death, admitting that their sorrow ‘is so heavy’, they are often ‘afraid for themselves’. 

Speaking in an emotional GMA interview on the one-year anniversary of her daughter’s drowning, Yolanda Previtire, spoke out about how the actress’s family is trying to come to terms with the trauma of her death, revealing that they have been going to therapy in the hopes of finding some closure.  

Glee star Naya disappeared on July 8, 2020, after she and her then-four-year-old son Josey had rented a pontoon boat on Lake Piru, California. Her body was discovered five days later – and it was revealed by investigators that she had likely drowned while swimming with her son. 

It is understood that she saved Josey’s life by helping him to get back aboard the boat, before disappearing under the surface of the water. 

Grieving: Naya Rivera’s mother, Yolanda Previtire, has spoken out about how the Glee star’s family is trying to deal with their ‘heavy’ grief on the one-year anniversary of her tragic death

Coming together: Yolanda appeared on GMA with Naya’s sister Nickayla, during which she admitted that the family’s grief gets so ‘heavy’ they are ‘afraid for themselves’ at times 

Tragedy: Glee star Naya drowned at the age of 33 after spending the day on a rented pontoon boat with her then-four-year-old son Josey, who was found alone on the vessel

One year on from that tragic day, her mother says that the family’s shared grief still hangs heavy, explaining: ‘Sometimes we’re afraid of the sorrow being so heavy that we’re afraid for [ourselves].’  

The grieving mother said that she has to try and ‘shake off’ her sadness every morning, adding that she ‘feels’ her daughter’s ‘energy’ each day, giving her the strength to get out of bed and go on with her life. 

Missing: Naya was pronounced missing and presumed dead after her son was found on the boat alone. Her body was found in the water five days after she disappeared 

‘I feel Naya’s energy constantly telling me, “Mom, be happy. Don’t cry. I’m OK. Go get Josey. Have fun.” And I feel that it’s coming from her,’ Yolanda said. 

‘I literally wake up every morning, and it’s almost like a restart button, and I have to shake it off … one foot at a time. And here we are.’

Naya’s younger sister Nickayla added that the family tries to live each day ‘to the fullest’ and with no regrets, explaining that the devastating loss of her sister has taught them all to appreciate the time they have with one another. 

‘[We are] taking [things] one day at a time and living [life] to the fullest, loving each other to the fullest, and not regretting anything,’ she said. ‘Because I know if we could go back, we’d hug a little bit harder.’

A tearful Yolanda also reflected on the final ‘beautiful’ conversation that she had with her daughter, recounting a FaceTime call that the duo shared while Naya was out on the boat with Josey. 

‘We had a beautiful conversation. The sun was kissing her face and she was just beautiful,’ she recalled. ‘She had a white, beautiful swimming suit on and she was glowing.’ 

However, it was during that conversation that Yolanda says she raised concerns about the increasingly risky conditions, explaining that she struggled to take a clear screenshot during the call because the water had become so choppy. 

She says she advised her daughter to move the boat to a calmer cove, and asked Naya to phone her when she and Josey were safely back on dry land. 

However, Yolanda never received that call. 

Instead, two detectives turned up on her doorstep to deliver the devastating news that her daughter was missing – news that left the mother in a state of utter shock and devastation. 

‘It was almost like a force,’ she said of the moment. ‘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 and I had to gather myself.’

The family was then forced to wait five days while detectives searched the lake for Naya’s body, an experience that Nickayla described as ‘absolute hell’, admitting that it was ‘a relief, in a way’ when her sister was finally found. 

On the day that Naya’s body was discovered, Yolanda – who had gone down to Lake Piru for every other day of the search – had been unable to muster the strength to do so, and was instead at home with Josey making pancakes, she shared. 

The grandmother had spent around half an hour with her grandson when she received the call to let her know that her daughter’s body had been found. 

Yolanda paid tribute to everyone who contributed to the search, including Naya’s former Glee castmates, many of whom gathered by the water to support the family. 

Search: Rescuers spent five days looking for Naya’s body in the lake (pictured), an experience that her sister Nickayla described as ‘absolute hell’ 

Waiting: Nickayla added that it was ‘a relief, in a way’ when the search and rescue team (pictured) found her sister’s body

Timeline: Police first announced that they were searching for a ‘possible drowning victim’ at 6.30pm on July 8, 2020, 90 minutes after a boater saw Josey asleep on the pontoon boat

Naya was initially pronounced missing after another boater raised the alarm, having seen her son Josey sleeping alone on their rented pontoon boat at around 4pm, three hours after they had taken the vessel out on the water. 

90 minutes later, police announced that they were searching for a ‘possible drowning victim’. 

After Naya’s body was discovered, police revealed that the actress had likely used the last of her energy to save her son, a final effort that left her unable to pull herself out of the water. 

‘Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said at a news conference on July 13: ‘She must have mustered enough energy to get her son back on the boat, but not enough to save herself.’

Naya and her son had climbed off the boat to go swimming, and young Josey later told investigators that his mother had helped him back onboard, but when he looked back, he saw her disappear under the surface of the water. 

An autopsy report, which was released in September, revealed that Naya had raised her arm and called for help as she accidentally drowned.  

‘Shortly after they jumped in the water, the decedent told Josey to get back on the boat,’ the report explained. 

‘She helped him onto the boat and he then heard the decedent yell “help” and she put her arm in the air. She then disappeared into the water.’ 

The report also revealed that the actress had previous problems with vertigo, had a recent sinus infection, and had a small amount of prescribed amphetamines in her system, but did not identify physical conditions or the prescribed drugs as factors in her death. 

It stated that Naya ‘used a marijuana vape pen and she would smoke about a pack of cigarettes per week’. It also said that Naya had ‘no known history of suicidal ideation or attempt.’

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