'Heaven gained our sassy angel': Naya Rivera's family release heartwrenching statement after her death

By Zach Harper

Former Glee star Naya Rivera's family have released an emotional and heartwrenching statement following autopsy results that confirmed the 33-year-old died by accidental drowning.

The mom of one went missing last week after she and her four-year-old son, Josey, went boating on California's Lake Piru. Josey was found alone in the boat they had rented. After a five-day search, a team located the star's body on July 13. Yolanda and George, Naya's parents, and her brother, Mychal, had been at the lake throughout the search as the team tried to locate her.

"We are so grateful for the outpouring of love and prayers for Naya, Josey and our family over the past week," the family said in a statement released to Deadline on July 14. "While we grieve the loss of our beautiful legend, we are blessed to honour her everlasting legacy and magnetic spirit. Naya was an amazing talent, but was an even greater person, mother, daughter and sister."

Lake Piru is seen as a team searches for Naya on July 13. Photo: © Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Riveras also thanked the Ventura, Tulare and San Luis Obispo Sheriff's Departments for their efforts in finding Naya.

"We extend endless gratitude and ovation to the heroine who found her," they continued. "Thank you to her friends, colleagues and fans for your continuous support.

"Heaven gained our sassy angel. We kindly request that our privacy be respected during this very difficult time."

Hollywood continued to mourn Naya on July 13, with her Glee co-stars and the show's creators praising her acting and singing abilities. Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk and Ian Brennan, the show's producers, are also setting up a college fund to support Josey.

Josey was located in the boat he and his mother had rented last week. Photo: © Gregg DeGuire/Getty Images

"[Naya's] greatest Glee legacy is probably the humour and humanity that she brought to Santana’s relationship with her best friend and eventual girlfriend/wife Brittany," their message reads.

"It was one of the first times an openly lesbian, high school relationship was seen on network television and Naya understood what ‘Brittana’ meant to the many young women who were seeing themselves represented on television for the first time."

Plenty of other stars and fans also praised Naya for her work playing Santana as they reacted to the actress' death. Demi Lovato, who played Santana's girlfriend on Glee, thanked Naya for her "groundbreaking" work playing the openly gay character. She said the character helped her, along with countless fans.

"[It was] groundbreaking for tons of closeted queer girls (like me at the time) and open queer girls, and your ambition and accomplishments were inspiring to Latina women all over the world," Demi said.

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