Tragedy in Joshua Tree National Park

by Albert Bataclan, ABS-CBN News

As the sun bakes the arid landscape and the namesake trees of this region of southern California’s high desert; it was a seemingly normal day at Joshua Tree National Park.

But just last week, the bodies of two missing hikers — found locked in embrace— were identified as Rachel Nguyen, age 20 and Filipino American Joseph Orbeso, 22, both of Orange County-eleven weeks after they were reported missing by the owner of the hotel they stayed in a few miles from the park.

The bodies were found under a tree near the maze loop trail. They had reportedly positioned their clothing to cover their lower extremities and protect them from the sun, and appeared they had been rationing their food and had no water.

Here at the head of the Boyscout trail, which leads to the entrance of the maze trail, and just beyond those ridges is where authorities found the bodies of the two hikers. It’s the end of October, but the temperatures here at the park are well over 90 degrees.

One can only assume the excessive heat and the lack of water they had to endure in the middle of July.

Autopsy reports say both Orbeso and Nguyen both had gun shot wounds and the gun found near the bodies was registered to Orbeso, who reportedly worked as a security guard.

San Bernardino County sheriff’s homicide detectives believe Orbeso shot Nguyen before turning the gun on himself.

Authorities said they found no evidence that he had planned to harm her, and offered their families the possible explanation that Nguyen may have slipped, fallen and hit her head — and as they ran out of food and water, killing her was a compassionate attempt to end her suffering—and his own.

A local hiker and park expert says being lost in the wilderness, like Orbeso and Nguyen, can affect normal mental processes—particularly logic.

“The decisions you make may not be rational or based on anything that makes sense. It’s a slide that begins from being dehydrated, and the more resources you lose, the worse of you become,” said Kelly Crowford.

Although the investigation continues, Nguyen’s family announced that they place no blame on Orbeso for her death—and they deem it as an accident.

One source told BA, however, that they are puzzled why the rescue and recovery did not happen sooner, since Orbeso and Nguyen’s bodies were found near the maze loop trail, within a few miles from the park’s entrance and surrounding communities.

Both the National Park Service and the San Bernardino police have been contacted, but have not given further updates nor responses.

Authorities are still urging anyone with information about this couple to contact San Bernardino County at 909-387-3589, or 1-800-78-CRIME (27463) to remain anonymous.

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