The death of two California hikers who went missing in July and whose remains were discovered Sunday has been ruled a murder-suicide by the San Bernardino County coroner.
During the autopsies of Joseph Orbeso, 21, and Rachel Nguyen, 20, investigators found gunshot wounds on both bodies, sheriff's officials reported.
Investigators believe Orbeso shot Nguyen before turning the gun on himself, sheriff’s department spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said.
“There is no indication that he wanted to harm her; that there was any plan for something like this,” Bachman said.
“We’ll probably never know why it happened,” she said. “His motive for doing this, there’s nothing left behind to tell us why.”
Bachman confirmed that a handgun registered to Orbeso was recovered near the bodies. She added that she is not aware of drugs being involved.
The two were last seen entering Joshua Tree National Park early on July 27 and were reported missing the next day by the owner of the Airbnb rental where they had stayed. The couple had missed their checkout time, but their belongings were still in their room. Nguyen's car was found later that day near the entrance to the Maze Loop trail.
After weeks of searching, at 1:50 pm on Oct. 15, the San Bernardino County sheriff's dispatch center received a call from a Joshua Tree park ranger reporting the remains of two deceased people locked in an embrace had been located inside the park.
The two bodies were found under a tree and it looked like they had been wearing shorts and had pulled them down some to protect their legs from the sun and heat, Bachman said.
“It appeared they were rationing food,” she said, but there was no water nearby.
Deputies from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station were flown to the area — described as a steep canyon to the far north of the Maze Loop trailhead, inaccessible by vehicle.
Due to suspicious circumstances and visible injuries to the decedents, detectives from the Specialized Investigations Division-Homicide Detail were requested to respond to the location.
With loss of daylight, the recovery of the bodies was postponed until Monday.
Between Wednesday and Thursday, the decedents were officially identified as Nguyen and Orbeso.
Joseph Orbeso's father, Gilbert Orbeso, had been searching along with Joshua Tree Search and Rescue teams nearly every weekend since the two went missing.
Holding out hope the couple was alive, on Aug. 26 the families announced they were offering a $10,000 reward for information leading to the couple’s safe return.
“We are hoping and praying that with a reward and the public’s help that we find answers and closure,” Gilbert Orbeso said in announcing the reward.
Orbeso was hiking with the group that discovered the remains on Sunday, though off in another area.
“It’s a relief that the search is over, but we’re still trying to process everything,” he said Monday.
Neither family could be reached for comment Friday.
Detectives from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station continue to investigate any and all leads regarding the two hikers.
The Desert Sun/USA Today