As the search for former “Glee” actress Naya Rivera continues two days after she disappeared on Lake Piru in California while boating with her 4-year-old son, the family of a woman who drowned in the same lake a decade ago are speaking out to reveal what may have happened to her.

Rivera, 33, is believed to have died in a “tragic accident” after her 4-year-old son was found alone on the boat they rented on Wednesday afternoon with the actress nowhere to be found. The toddler told police that he and his mother had gone swimming, but she never made it out of the water. It’s unclear how the little boy managed to get out of the water and back on the boat himself.

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At least eight people have drowned in Lake Piru since 1994, including nine-year-old Denise Arredondo, who was sucked underwater by a whirlpool in 2009. Her family is now speaking out to express their fears that the same thing happened to Rivera.

“Whirlpools seem to be notorious in this lake. I was very surprised with this piece of information because I wasn’t even aware that whirlpools occurred in lakes,” her cousin Andrea Arredondo told The Sun. “I really hope that isn’t the reason Naya didn’t resurface, but it could be one of the possibilities.”

She went on to recall how her little cousin was “dragged right under the murky water” by the whirlpool. Andrea has never forgotten how “unrecognizable” her cousin’s body was when it was finally pulled from the water.

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“On May 16, 2009, my family had made plans to go to the local fair later on in the evening,” Andrea recalled. “We invited my cousin Denise to join us along with her two younger sisters. She politely declined because my uncle was actually taking them to the lake that day. I believe around 4-5pm we received a phone call from my uncle, his voice sounded shaky and distraught, he kept repeating, ‘My little girl is gone, they can’t find her.'”

Andrea continued:

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“We raced to the lake and got there in five minutes. The minute we got there, we witnessed many police cars, search and rescue teams and fire trucks putting so much effort into finding her. We were finally able to find my uncle told us what exactly happened. My cousin wandered into a shallow area of the lake when he saw that she was suddenly being dragged right under the murky water.

He had his hands full due to the fact that he was holding her younger sisters. The only thing he was able to do was drop the younger ones for a quick second and grab my cousin by her long hair and pull her, but he was unsuccessful and was only left with a strand of her long locks. My aunt also added that the rangers at that lake explained to them how that was the safest spot to have a picnic and swim.

To this very day I still remember seeing how the search and rescue team pulled her out from the water, she was extremely unrecognizable. That was something a nine year old should never witness.”

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Andrea said that when she heard about Rivera’s disappearance, it sent “shivers down my spine”.

“This news definitely triggered some emotions for my family and I,” she said. “Every year since my cousin passed away, I’ve struggled with a whole lot of anxiety when I hear the helicopters hover over home as they travel to rescue yet another victim. After the accident, my parents have been asking to have warning signs be put up but no action was taken, they definitely feel frustrated when stuff like this happens.”

Andrea added that her heart goes out to Rivera’s family, as she knows what they are going through right now.

“Naya was an extremely gifted actress, mother, daughter, sister and friend,” Andrea said. “Memories of her will forever remain with those who were close to her and those who looked up to her as an actress and singer. They say time heals, I personally think that no matter how many years go by, the pain feels just the same; it’s all about learning how to cope through the different emotions, but they will all be ok.”

“Her family is in my prayers through this moment of grief, I truly understand what they’re feeling in this very moment,” she added.


This piece originally appeared in and is used by permission.

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