The missing hikers whose bodies were found embracing in Joshua Tree National Park on Sunday died in an apparent murder-suicide, PEOPLE confirms.
On Friday afternoon, the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement that investigators believe missing hiker Joseph Orbeso, 22, fatally shot his hiking companion, Rachel Nguyen, 20, before turning the gun on himself.
Autopsies performed on both hikers found that their injuries were consistent with gunshot wounds, the statement says.
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“Based on evidence located at the scene, detectives believe Orbeso shot Nguyen, then shot himself,” the statement says.
Authorities are continuing to investigate why Orbeso allegedly killed Nguyen, the sheriff said.
Their identities were released earlier this week, nearly three months after the young pair went missing in the California national park.
In a press release, the National Park Service confirmed that hikers had discovered the two bodies “in a remote region” of the park on Sunday at 11:30 p.m. local time.
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The pair had been initially reported missing on July 28 when deputies from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station were contacted by the owner of a local bed and breakfast who told deputies that he believed his guests — Nguyen and Orbeso — went hiking in the park that morning but never returned to check out, the statement said.
Later that day, Joshua Tree National Park Service Rangers located the pair’s unoccupied vehicle in the park.
When rangers couldn’t find them, a large-scale search ensued, with more than 250 people looking for the pair over the next nine days, including Orbeso’s father, Gilbert Orbeso.
According to local outlet KABC, Gilbert Orbeso said he and the search team discovered the bodies in an “embracing” position on Sunday.
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.”
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Specialized Investigations Division, Homicide Detail, Detective Scott Stafford or Sergeant Robert Warrick (909) 387-3589.
Callers wishing to remain anonymous are urged to call the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (27463), or you may leave information on the We-Tip website at www.wetip.com.