A grieving father Saturday at least had “closure,” even though his worst fears have finally come true for his son and a girlfriend.
In a tragic end to a nearly three-month mystery, sheriff’s officials said a Southland couple whose embracing remains were found in Joshua Tree National Park died as the result of a murder-suicide that appeared to be the desperate final option of a dying couple lost in the wilderness.
The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department officially identified the remains that were found Sunday as Joseph Orbeso, 22, of Lakewood, and Rachel Nguyen, 20, of Westminster. Orbeso’s father, Gilbert, was part of the search team that found the remains.
Authorities had earlier said both Orbeso and Nguyen were 21.
“During autopsy, injuries consistent with a gunshot wound were located on both Nguyen and Orbeso,” sheriff’s officials said Friday. “Based on evidence located at the scene, detectives believe Orbeso shot Nguyen, then shot himself. Orbeso’s actions remain under investigation.”
Sheriff’s officials said a gun was found at the scene. Coachella Valley television station KESQ reported the gun was registered to Joseph Orbeso.
The couple’s remains were found in an embrace in a remote part of the park near Maze Loop. The bodies were recovered Monday morning.
Cindy Bachman of the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department told ABC7 the couple’s bodies were found under a tree, possibly in an attempt to shield themselves from the heat.
“They had positioned their clothing to … cover the lower parts of their body from the sun and the heat,” Bachman said. “Investigators say it appeared they were rationing food, and they had no water.”
She said there is no evidence of any prior intent by Orbeso to harm Nguyen, and the pair likely found themselves in “dire” circumstances.
“They were lost. They were in a bad area there and their resources were either almost gone or gone. Again, they were in a very desperate situation,” Bachman told Channel 7.
The pair had last been seen July 27 when they left for a hike. They were reported missing the next day when they failed to check out of their Airbnb rental. National Park Service rangers found their vehicle near a trail head, prompting a large-scale search that failed to turn up the couple.
The search was eventually scaled back, with teams continuing to scour the park on weekends, with Orbeso’s father, Gilbert, regularly joining the search effort.
“We hope that they can rest in peace now,” Gilbert Orbeso told local TV station KESQ Sunday after the remains were spotted. “I believed that I was going to find them. I didn’t know when. But I had my answer today.”
He said he had a sense of relief after finally finding the couple.
“I feel that we have closure,” he said Sunday. “And we know we found them. That was our main goal was to find them.”
—City News Service
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