Naya Rivera's family mourns loss of their 'sassy angel' after tragic drowning

“Naya was an amazing talent, but was an even greater person, mother, daughter and sister," her family said in a statement.
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Naya Rivera on Sept. 16, 2016 in Hollywood, California.David Livingston / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

The family of the late actor Naya Rivera, who drowned in California’s Lake Piru last week, spoke out Tuesday night about her death.

The family thanked fans and emergency responders for their support during the search for Rivera’s body and added they “extend endless gratitude and ovation to the heroine who found her.”

“While we grieve the loss of our beautiful legend, we are blessed to honor her everlasting legacy and magnetic spirit,” the family said in a statement to TODAY. “Naya was an amazing talent, but was an even greater person, mother, daughter and sister.”

“Heaven gained our sassy angel.”

Tuesday afternoon, the Ventura County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed the body found Monday in the lake was that of the 33-year-old actress. After an autopsy, officials determined accidental drowning was the cause of death.

“There is no indication from the investigation or examination that drugs or alcohol played a role in the decedent’s death, but specimens will be submitted for toxicology testing,” officials said in a statement Tuesday.

Monday, Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub said in a press conference that officials believe Rivera spent her last moments alive saving her 4-year-old son, Josey, as they swam together.

“It would be speculation to say at this point. There are a lot of currents on the lake that appear particularly in the afternoon,” Ayub said. “The idea perhaps being that the boat started drifting — it was unanchored — and that she mustered enough energy to get her son back on the boat but not enough to safe herself.”

He also confirmed her family had held out hope during the search and recovery mission, visiting the lake every day and talking with investigators. Ayub added officials had taken the family to a northern part of the lake called “The Narrows” where her body was found.

He said the lake floor has extensive plant growth in that area — 15 to 20 feet high in some places — which made it difficult for divers to locate Rivera’s body.