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Joshua Tree hikers died in murder-suicide, officials say

Ahead at 6pm on KESQ: Hear from the father of Joseph Orbeso and how he’s reacting to the news of the shootings. UPDATE 1:15:

The San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Unit confirms to I-Team investigator Karen Devine, a gun was found in close proximity to Joseph Orbeso’s body in Joshua Tree National Park. According to Sergeant Robert Warwick, they were able to run the serial number on the gun and find that it was registered to Joseph Orbeso. They are not releasing the make and model of the gun at this time.


Two bodies found embracing in Joshua Tree National Park have been identified as Rachel Nguyen and Joseph Orbeso.

Investigators say Orbeso killed Nguyen and then himself.

” Based on evidence located at the scene, detectives believe Orbeso shot Nguyen, then shot himself. The investigation into Orbeso’s actions remain under investigation.” the investigators said.

The Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Department confirmed the news to KESQ News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 Friday morning.

Be the first to know when news breaks. Download the KESQ & CBS Local 2 news app here 21-year-old Joseph Orbeso and 20-year-old Rachel Nguyen were last heard from on July 27. Their car was found in the park near the Maze Loop trailhead. Their last known contact was a cell phone ping in the area; their belongings were still at the rented home they never checked out of.

On Sunday, October 15, two bodies were found in the park.

The remains were found on the north side of the Maze Loop trail. Joseph Orbeso’s father Gilbert was with members of Joshua Tree Search and Rescue when the bodies were found.

Before the bodies were found, searchers were covering new grounds and were scaling 30 foot cliffs and boulders. They were just 2 miles from Maze Loop when they came across water bottles, clothing, and food wrappers that lead them to the bodies.

The area was described by Sheriffs as “a steep canyon to the far north of the Maze Loop trailhead.” Deputies who arrived Sunday found the bodies in “suspicious circumstances” and called homicide investigators to the location. The investigation continued into Monday, October 16, when the bodies were removed.

A coroner’s helicopter overhead picked up the remains, which were sent to the San Bernardino Coroner’s office to confirm the identities.

The autopsy revealed that both bodies had gunshot wounds. Detectives are still investigating what let to Orbeso’s alleged actions.

Stay with KESQ News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 for updates on this breaking news. We will bring you updates on air at noon today.

After the bodies were found, Rachel Nguyen’s family issued a statement, saying:

“We’re humbled and grateful for the outpouring of love and support from the public. We cannot thank enough the folks from San Bernardino Sheriffs, Joshua Tree Search and Rescue, volunteers, and all agencies involved in the search efforts. We also thank all of our family and friends for their prayers. We thank God for bringing peace and closure for our family.” – Son Nguyen, Rachel’s uncle

Joseph Orbeso’s father, Gilbert Orbeso spoke with reporter Lauren Coronado the day the bodies were found. “I would tell Joseph that I love him very much and I hope they can rest in peace now,” Orbeso said Sunday evening. Orbeso said he had a “sense of relief that we have found them after going a long time on these hikes.”

“I feel that we have closure,” he said. “And we know we found them. That was our main goal was to find them.”

For months during the disappearance, Orbeso had been driving to the national park from the Los Angeles area weekly to search for his son with Joshua Tree Search and Rescue Volunteers. I-Team investigator Karen Devine was there during one hike as the group searched for clues in the disappearance.

The I-Team also learned about other leads outside of the park, including the discovery of four types of hallucinogenic drugs at the rented AirBnB home.

WATCH: I-Team reports

“It was very hard, you know,” Gilbert Orbeso responded to news of that discovery, “I can say that we were close to Joseph and mom always talked to Joseph and he was pretty responsible.”

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