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In an appearance on Thursday’s Good Morning America, Previtire sat alongside Rivera’s younger sister, Nickayla, and emotionally recounted her final time talking to her daughter, the “hell on earth” of those first five days during the recovery efforts and the family’s continuing sorrow a year later.
“Sometimes we’re afraid of the sorrow being so heavy that we’re afraid for our own self, ’cause this is hard. There are no words to describe what we’re going through,” Previtire said of the family’s shared sadness. “All we know is we have each other.”
Speaking with ABC News’ Juju Chang, Previtire shared details about the final time she talked to her daughter — the day Rivera and her son, Josey, were on the lake.
“I missed two of her FaceTime calls, and I called her back. And we had a beautiful conversation. The sun was kissing her face and she was just beautiful,” Previtire recounted. “She had a white, beautiful swimming suit on and she was glowing.”
During their conversation, Previtire said she noted to her daughter that the lake conditions were choppy but to “call me when you get off the water.” While she was unable to take screenshots of Rivera, Previtire was able to take screenshots of Josey, which ultimately helped the rescue team locate Rivera during that multi-day search, which she and Nickayla called “hell on earth.”
“My faith told me that nothing is missing, surely not a person,” Previtire said. “Yes, we just can’t find them. So that was my thing. God, you know where she’s at, just bring her back to us.”
“Thank God I took the pictures because they were able to look at the topography of the land to locate where they were,” she continued.
At one point in the interview, Rivera’s mother described hearing the news that her grandson had been recovered by a fellow boater, but that they couldn’t locate her daughter.
“He told us he said, ‘Don’t worry, we have Josey but your daughter’s missing,’ ” Previtire recalled. “And it was almost like a force. I don’t know what it was but I literally — I was just pushed backwards, just screaming.”
Nickayla Rivera — who moved in with Josey’s father and said she “knew the role that I had to take” following her sister’s death — said the family, which GMA confirmed is in therapy, is taking it all “one day at a time.”
“Taking that one day at a time and living it to the fullest, loving each other to the fullest and not regretting anything,” Nickayla said. “Because I know if we could go back, we’d hug a little bit harder.”
Previtire shared that now when she looks at Josey, she sees her daughter. “I see Josey, and it’s almost like it’s so reminiscent because he’s like a boy version of her in every sense of the word,” she said. “Just his tenacity, his drive his zeal, his adventure for life.”
Rivera’s mother and sister also spoke to her legacy, including her impact playing the outspoken and confident lesbian Latina Santana Lopez on the Fox hit Glee.
“I honestly don’t think that she even knew the impact that she had,” Nickayla told GMA. “My sister, even though she was acting, was touching people’s real lives and helping them become who they really are, and not being ashamed of that.”
“I would like my daughter’s — Naya’s — legacy to be one that teaches people to love,” Previtire said. “Love who you are because you don’t get another life.
Rivera disappeared while boating with her young son at Lake Piru in California on July 8. An extensive search ensued after the 4-year-old was found alone on the drifting boat, and by July 13, Rivera’s body had been discovered floating in an area of the lake that’s about 30 feet deep. According to the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office, she was most likely trapped in thick vegetation underwater for several days before finally floating to the top.
Rivera’s official cause of death was an accidental drowning, and authorities told the media they did not suspect foul play nor do they believe she purposely tried to hurt herself.
According to an autopsy report released in September, Rivera had even attempted to call for help after placing her son back onto the boat. At this point, the boy “noticed the decedent put her arm up in the air and yelled ‘help,'” the report from the Ventura County Medical Examiner says. “The decedent then disappeared in to the water.”
Rivera’s death was the third of a major cast member of Glee, the Fox TV musical comedy that she starred in from 2009 to 2015. Her body was found seven years to the day after co-star Cory Monteith died at 31 from a toxic mix of alcohol and heroin.
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