Family members of the young woman who died in an apparent murder-suicide in Joshua Tree National Park say they don’t believe the deaths were caused by malicious intent, according to the Associated Press.
On Friday, PEOPLE confirmed the missing hikers whose bodies were found embracing in Joshua Tree National Park on Sunday — Joseph Orbeso, 22, and Rachel Nguyen, 20 — died in an apparent murder-suicide. “Based on evidence located at the scene, detectives believe Orbeso shot Nguyen, then shot himself,” the statement given to PEOPLE by the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office on Friday read.
Although the sheriff’s office’s statement said that authorities were continuing to investigate why Orbeso allegedly killed Nguyen, her family said investigators believed the missing hikers died in a “sympathetic murder-suicide,” according to a statement they gave to the Orange County Register
“We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Orbeso family, and that they will remain in our prayers,” Nguyen’s family said in the statement to the Register, adding that they “thank God that we’ll be able to give Rachel a proper burial and lay her to rest.”
Austin Young — Orbeso’s best friend — also told the Register that he believed the missing hikers — who Young claimed had once dated — were suffering from extreme weather conditions at the time. “I think they got lost and were suffering in 100-degree heat,” he told the newspaper.
“They had a choice of a slow and painful death or a quick death,” Young continued. “And they made the choice of a quick death. Joseph wouldn’t do it [the shooting] unless Rachel said she couldn’t take it anymore. I don’t want Joseph to go down as a murderer.”
Young also claimed that Orbeso may have had a gun because Orbeso worked as a security guard at a golf course.
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According to local outlet KABC, Gilbert Orbeso — the father of the missing hiker — said he and the search team discovered the bodies in an “embracing” position on Sunday nearly three months after the young pair went missing in the California national park.
Despite no formal confirmation, Gilbert Orbeso told the outlet, “I feel that we have closure and we know we found them. That was our main goal was to find them…Hope they can rest in peace now.”
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