Former Glee actress Naya Rivera has been missing since Wednesday afternoon, when she was last seen renting a boat with her 4-year-old son Josey at Lake Piru in Los Padres National Forest in Ventura County, California. Although Josey was found safe asleep in the boat and is now with his family, Rivera was not. Authorities are now in their third day of searching for her. The 33-year-old is presumed dead and the search is now a recovery mission.
Lake Piru is located about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles and is a reservoir created by the Santa Felica Dam in Piru Creek. Security footage released by the Ventura County Sheriff's Department shows Rivera and her son getting in a boat alone, then going to the northern part of the lake to swim. On Friday, authorities began using specialized sonar equipment to find Rivera because there is low visibility in the water where the boat was found. Diver Robert Inglis told CBS Los Angeles there are some trees in the water that are 15-feet tall and other underwater debris has made the search difficult.
Although the lake is popular with visitors and tourists, Lake Piru is considered dangerous by locals. There have been several tragic drownings in the lake, inspiring thousands of people to sign a petition calling for better signs warning tourists of the dangers of swimming without life jackets. Here is a brief look at some of the tragedies that have happened at the lake. It is now closed while authorities search for Rivera.
Seven people drowned in the lake between 1994 and 2000
In September 2000, the Los Angeles Times published a report on the dangers of the lake, following the death of Eric Cruz. The 25-year-old Van Nuys resident drowned just 10 feet from shore. Witnesses said he was an inexperienced swimmer and pushed his boogie board away. Douglas West, Lake Piru’s parks and recreation services manager in 2000, said there were about 12 drownings during his 23 years working at the lake. He said most drownings involve a swimmer who is inexperienced and not wearing a life jacket. They often overestimate their swimming abilities and go into prohibited areas.
“The only thing I can emphasize is that if swimmers are around water, they need to wear a personal flotation device whether they know how to swim or not,” West told the Times in 2000. “That will save their lives.”prevnext
The area is 'notorious for the winds'
Ventura County Sheriff Sgt. Kevin Donoghue explained to PEOPLE that searching for Rivera is like trying to find a needle in a haystack. "Water searches are really difficult," he explained, adding that it could be "several days" before they find clues or recover Rivera. He said Lake Piru's tough conditions make the search more difficult. The area is "notorious for the winds," Donoghue said.
Rivera was last seen when she rented a boat Wednesday afternoon. After she did not return the boat in three hours, the staff at the concessions stand began a search. The boat was found with Josey sleeping aboard and wearing a life jacket. An adult-sized life jacket was found on the boat, a possible sign that Rivera was not wearing hers. "If she had a life jacket, we would find her floating, clearly she is not," Donoghue told PEOPLE.prevnext
A man drowned after the wind blew him away from a boat just five minutes after swimming
The search for Naya Rivera will continue this morning at Lake Piru. The lake will be closed to the public while search operations continue. Dive teams from throughout the region will be assisting us through mutual aid. @VCAirUnit @Cal_OES @fillmoresheriff pic.twitter.com/q6LsHd8xaT— Ventura Co. Sheriff (@VENTURASHERIFF) July 9, 2020
In May 2010, 36-year-old Roberto Barrios drowned in the lake. He was celebrating his nursing school graduation with about two dozen people when he took a swim with two other people. The three people were swimming for about five minutes when the wind blew them away from the boat after just five minutes of swimming. Witnesses rescued two of them but were unable to find Barrios, who disappeared under the water, according to the Ventura County Star. Barrios disappeared on a Saturday but his body was not recovered until two days later.prevnext
In 2008, a father drowned after trying to save his 5-year-old daughter
On Aug. 25, 2008, Anatoly Smolyansky dived into the Lake Piru water to save his 5-year-old daughter after she fell overboard. While his daughter was saved by her 9-year-old brother, Smolyansky never resurfaced. Divers from various departments in Southern California spent over 600 hours in the waters searching for him. His body was not recovered until Sept. 1, 2008, the Ventura County Sheriff's Office said.prevnext
An employee went missing for 17 hours in February 1998 before he was found in the water
The fact that there has been a dozen or so incidents that happened at Lake Piru where Naya Rivera went missing is honestly eerie pic.twitter.com/uMDppyYPD3— . (@fkagarbage) July 9, 2020
In February 1998, lake employee Arthur Raymond Caldera was found dead 17 hours after he went missing, the Los Angeles Times reported at the time. A co-worker saw the bait shop was unlocked and called sheriff's deputies after Caldera did not arrive at work on time. Deputies said Caldera may have slipped into the water the evening before he was found and drowned.prevnext
More than 20,000 people have signed a petition for more signs at Lake Piru warning about the dangers
Please never come to lake piru to swim!! I lost my prima at an extremely young age while she went out for a swim when a sudden whirlpool dragged her 6 feet under. For years our family has been asking to have signs be put up warning visitors about these waters. https://t.co/pIubC74Mhk— Spooky Spice🕷🧟♀️ BLM (@skelingtonn) July 9, 2020
After Rivera went missing, Change.org user Erin Jordan launched a petition calling for new signs to warn visitors of the dangers of Lake Piru. "Lake Piru is a very deep lake with very bad whirlpools, people have been asking for years for the city to put up warning signs for swimmers," Jordan wrote. "Locals of Ventura County don’t go to Lake Piru for this reason!" She noted that tourists do not know "what they're getting into" and added that "need justice for all those who got lost at Lake Piru." More than 20,000 people have already signed the petition.prev