Bodies of missing hikers found embracing in Joshua tree

By Daniel Uria  |  Oct. 22, 2017 at 5:48 PM
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Oct. 22 (UPI) -- Officials in California discovered the bodies of a couple who had been missing for three months after going hiking at Joshua Tree National Park.

San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department identified the bodies of 21-year-old Joseph Orbeso and 20-year-old Rachel Nguyen after they were found in an apparent embrace, as police determined the couple died in a murder-suicide.

"Based on evidence located at the scene, detectives believe Orbeso shot Nguyen, then shot himself," the sheriff's department said. "The investigation into Orbeso's actions remain under investigation."

Cindy Bachman, a Sheriff's Department spokeswoman, said Orbeso's motive may never be known due to a lack of evidence at the scene.

"There is nothing left behind to give the investigators or the family any indication of why this happened," she said. "There was nothing like a note or a phone call to explain the circumstances that we found. It's unfortunate because it leaves questions for their family."

Orbeso's father, Gilbert Orbeso, discovered the couple while searching with members of Joshua Tree Search and Rescue and a coroner's helicopter picked up the remains.

"A sense of relief that we have found them after going a long time on these hikes. I feel like we have closure. We know we found them," he said. "That was our main goal, to find them. And I'm glad we did that with these great people here with me and the rest of everyone."

The pair had previously dated but were most recently friends and went to Joshua Tree to celebrate Nguyen's birthday.

Nguyen's family released a statement saying the situation had been "very difficult for the family" but did not cast blame on Orbeso.

"It was explained to us by the investigators on scene, with the circumstances and positioning of the bodies, that they believe this was a sympathetic murder-suicide. We hold no grudges against Joseph or the Orbeso Family," the family said. "We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Orbeso Family, and that they will remain in our prayers."

The couple was reported missing July 28 after the owner of a bed and breakfast where they were staying reported they may have gone hiking at Joshua Tree but hadn't returned.

Later that day police found their vehicle near a the Maze Loop trailhead. About three months later searchers found their bodies 2 miles away from Maze Loop after spotting water bottles, clothing and food wrappers that led them to the scene.

Because of the condition of the bodies sheriff's officials were unable to determine how soon the couple died after they went missing.

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