Family and Friend of 2 Hikers Found in S. California Park Say Death Was ‘Sympathetic Murder-Suicide’

October 22, 2017 Updated: October 24, 2017

The family of two hikers who were found dead earlier this month after hiking in Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California said the pair likely died in a “sympathetic murder-suicide.”

Joseph Orbeso, 22, and Joseph’s friend, Rachel Nguyen, 20 were found embracing each other, searchers report.

Investigators later said they looked like they were trying to protect themselves from the sun, and appeared to be rationing food. No water was found near their bodies, the Orange County Register reports.

The San Bernardino Coroner’s office said both Nguyen and Joseph had injuries consistent with a gunshot wound, and detectives believe Orbeso shot Nguyen, then shot himself.

“There was nothing like a note or a phone call to explain the circumstances that we found,” Cindy Bachman, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s department told the Register. “It’s unfortunate because it leaves questions for their family.”

“It was explained to us by the investigators on scene, with the circumstances and positioning of the bodies, that they believe this was a sympathetic murder-suicide,” the Nguyen family said in a statement, obtained by the Register.

“We hold no grudges against Joseph or the Orbeso Family. We thank God that we’ll be able to give Rachel a proper burial and lay her to rest.”

The two were reported missing on July 28 when they failed to show up at their Airbnb. The last time they were seen was on July 27.

A search team looked for them for almost three months.

On Sunday, Oct. 15, the search led Gilbert Orbeso, Joseph Orbeso’s father, and the team to a wash a few miles from Maze Loop, where they found pieces of clothing, water bottles, and food wrappers. Nearby they found the bodies.

A car belonging to the hikers was previously found in the Maze Loop area.

A gun was found near the bodies that was registered to Joseph.

Joseph’s best friend, Austin Young, 23, told the Register he doesn’t believe Orbeso murdered Nguyen.

“That is not the kind of person Joseph is,” Young said. “I think he brought a gun out there to protect Rachel.”

“They had a choice of a slow and painful death or a quick death,” he said. “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.”

He said Joseph likely had a gun because he worked as a security guard at a Long Beach golf course.

Joseph Orbeso and Rachel Nguyen, who went missing in Joshua Tree National Park, Calif., on July 27, 2017. (State of California Department of Justice)

At the time, the discovery of their bodies was a relief for Gilbert.

“I feel that we have closure and we know we found them,” he told ABC 7, his voice shaking. “That was our main goal was to find them. Hope that they can rest in peace now.”


Joseph Orbeso was from Lakewood and Nguyen from Westminster, both in Southern California. Joseph wasn’t an experienced hiker, his father said.

Joseph had dated Nguyen in the past, Gilbert said, and had stayed friends with her. The hiking trip was a birthday present for her, he said.

Joshua Tree National Park, over 100 miles east of Los Angeles, spans 1,240 square miles. It’s an unforgiving mix of desert and rocky terrain, especially in the Maze Loop area.

Maze Loop Trail in Joshua Tree National Park, California. (Screenshot via Google Maps)

Petr Svab contributed to this report.


Follow Holly on Twitter: @HollyGailK