Authorities have set sobering expectations for how the search for Naya Rivera will end. In a statement released Thursday evening, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department—who have been searching for the former Glee star since she was reported missing Wednesday after spending the day swimming in Southern California’s Lake Piru—stated they believe she “drowned in what appears to be a tragic accident.”
The search for Rivera began Wednesday after the actress and her 4-year-old son, Josey, were late returning their three-hour pontoon rental. Staff working at the lake went out searching and discovered Josey—Rivera’s only child, whom she co-parents with ex-husband Ryan Dorsey—napping alone on the boat around 4:30 p.m. PT. “The boat was found drifting in the northern portion of the lake with the child alone and asleep onboard,” reads an investigation summary released by the VCSD. “Rivera’s son told investigators that he and his mother had been swimming in the lake, and he got back in the boat, but Rivera did not.”
The VCSD have released the relatively innocuous 911 call where a woman provides brief, second-hand information of a “missing person” as well as security camera footage of Rivera and Josey arriving at Lake Piru and setting off on their pontoon, but neither have provided any insight into what may have happened between the end of the video and when Josey was found alone. “We don’t know if the boy had been sleeping there for an hour or five minutes,” Ventura County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Kevin Donoghue told People on Thursday. (Josey was “in good health,” VCSD Capt. Eric Bushow confirmed to Yahoo! News Wednesday evening. “The family is going through a very traumatic time right now.”)
The VCSD says “approximately 50 sheriff’s personnel, along with a helicopter, boat crews, divers, and unmanned aerial vehicles” searched both the shore and the water for five hours. Their efforts were suspended at 10 p.m. Wednesday night “due to zero visibility in the water and dangerous conditions for the divers.”
The search resumed at dawn, with a team of 80 growing to a team of 100 throughout the day, among them divers and rescue personnel from neighboring counties and the United States Coast Guard. At a press conference Thursday afternoon, authorities discussed finding an unused adult life jacket on the pontoon, though they could not verify if that meant Rivera was swimming without a life jacket or if it was simply an extra. “But, seemingly, if she was somehow incapacitated and she had a life jacket, we would find her floating,” Donoghue later told People. “Clearly, she is not.” Authorities are monitoring Rivera’s credit cards for any purchases made after she was reported missing, but say there is “no evidence of foul play.” The actress’ wallet and ID were found on the boat and her car was found at the scene, leading a VCSD representative to say they are “confident” Rivera is still in the water.
Lake Piru is a body of water known as being dangerous. (According to the Los Angeles Times, about seven people drowned in the lake between 1994 and 2000.) At a press conference late Thursday afternoon, Donoghue was upfront about the difficulties of searching its murky waters, where visibility can be less than a foot in front of a diver. “If the body is entangled in something underneath the water, it may never come up,” he said, adding that they “don’t know” if they’ll ever find Rivera. But that “does not change the efforts, and does not change the gusto, what we push forward with the search operation,” officer Chris Dyer explained at an earlier press conference. “The goal is still to bring Ms. Rivera home to her family, so they can have some closure.”
Following the evening press conference, Demi Lovato, who played Rivera’s girlfriend on season 5 of Glee, tweeted a rare personal tweet from the account her team usually uses for promotion of her partnerships: “I don’t tweet often but sometimes my tweets come true so, together let’s manifest on twitter that Naya will be found safe and sound!! Come on y’all! Let’s put this energy out there: they will find her healthy and alive!🙏🙏🙏” It was just the latest of tweets from Rivera’s former costars. “We need all the prayers we can get to bring our Naya back home to us,” Heather Morris—whose Glee character, Brittany, wed Rivera’s Santana in season six of the Fox musical series—posted earlier in the day. “We need your love and light🙏🙏”
Update, July 10: Sgt. Kevin Donoghue revealed Friday that, in addition to cadaver dogs, the search teams have been using sonar technology in their efforts to locate Rivera. “When it sees an anomaly, an object that’s consistent with the shape and size of what we’re looking for, then we send divers to search that specific area,” he told People. “The conditions aren’t like they are in the ocean, where you can have some places really clean, clear water. In lakes, typically the closer you get to the bottom of the lake, the less visible it is,” he explained. “So if she’s resting at the bottom of the lake, she’s probably resting somewhere where there’s zero visibility.”
Friday afternoon, VCSD released footage of their underwater search, showing just how much the divers’ visibility is limited. “We don’t know if she’s going to be found five minutes from now or five days from now,” Capt. Eric Buschow said at a press conference.