A young California couple who vanished during a hiking trip in the desert almost three months ago died in a murder-suicide near a trail, investigators said Friday. Their embraced bodies were discovered in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California.
Joseph Orbeso, 22, fatally shot his girlfriend, Rachel Nguyen, 20, and then used the gun on himself, according to a statement from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department. Orbeso’s handgun was found on the scene, investigators said. Their bodies were discovered in a remote canyon Sunday by a search team that included Orbeso’s father, Gilbert Orbeso.
Detectives are continuing to investigate the deaths and what motive there would have been for the killings. The couple may have been lost in the 800,000-acre desert park and losing hope.
“It appears they had been rationing their food and had no water,” the sheriff’s department said a statement. They were found beneath a tree and were using clothing to protect their skin from the sun.
The Joshua Tree park’s website advises visitors not to undertake difficult hikes in extreme heat and warns hikers to take an “ample” water supply. There’s no cellphone service in the park.
The two were reported missing in late July when they failed to check out of a local bed-and-breakfast after leaving for a hike in high temperatures. A massive hunt was launched after their empty car was found in the park. Sheriff’s deputies, helicopter crews, horse and canine teams and rescue volunteers spent about 2,000 hours searching for the missing pair.
“I want Joseph to be remembered as a kind, caring and thoughtful person,” Orbesco’s father, Giberto, told the Southern California News Group before information about the suspected murder-suicide was released. “The way he was found beside Rachel, holding her as they were seeking shade under the brush, says everything you need to know about him as a man and as a human being.”
The two were in the park to celebrate Nguyen’s birthday, according to KTLA-5 TV in Los Angeles.
Gilberto Orbeso said he was relieved the bodies were finally found. “I feel that we have closure,” he told KESQ-TV in the Coachella Valley. “That was our main goal ... to find them. I hope they can rest in peace now.”