SAN BERNARDINO (AP) — A young couple whose disappearance in the blazing summer heat of Joshua Tree National Park launched an urgent search died in a murder-suicide, Southern California authorities said Friday.
Two bodies discovered Sunday in a remote canyon were identified as Orange County residents Rachel Nguyen, 20, and Joseph Orbeso, 22, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
Autopsies found both had gunshot wounds and evidence at the scene led detectives to believe Orbeso shot Nguyen and then himself, the statement said.
It did not suggest a motive but said Orbeso’s actions remained under investigation.
The bodies were found in an embrace, authorities said earlier this week before formal identifications.
The couple was reported missing July 28 when they failed to return to a bed-and-breakfast, whose owner believed they went hiking in the vast park sprawling over more than 1,200 square miles of the Mojave and Colorado deserts 130 miles east of Los Angeles.
Later that day, the National Park Service rangers found the couple’s car, unoccupied, near the Maze Loop Trailhead.
The park’s search-and-rescue team immediately began looking for the pair, and the next day the park requested help from the county Sheriff’s Department.
More than 250 searchers on the ground, on horseback, in aircraft and aided by dog team spent nine days scouring the rugged terrain. More than 10 suffered injuries before the search was scaled back to small teams working weekends.
The bodies were not found until Oct. 15.
Joseph Orbeso’s father, Gilbert Orbeso, was with searchers who made the discovery.
The Sheriff’s Department said in its statement that deputies were flown to the area that afternoon and homicide investigators were summoned due to suspicious circumstances and visible injuries.
The bodies were removed the next day and taken to the coroner’s office for identification and investigation.