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L.A. Couple Goes Missing During Weekend Trip To The Desert

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A couple departed Los Angeles for a weekend in the desert on Saturday afternoon, but failed to return. Now police, as well as the couple's friends and colleagues, are trying to piece together where they went and where they are now. Aaron Morganstein and Mariya "Masha" Mitkova have been in a relationship for a few years, and are both experienced campers who love to hike and explore, according to their friend, Briana Gonzales. She said it's not unlike them to take a five-hour hike into a park when they go camping, versus staying put at a campsite. They're comfortable in nature, and Gonzales says that because of Morganstein's work in lighting and photography, he'd likely be able to navigate using the sun if he had to.

On Saturday at about 3 p.m., they were seen leaving their home in the 2200 block of Shoredale Avenue in Los Angeles in a Subaru Outback, according to a release from the LAPD. On their way out of town, they stopped for gas at the Morongo Travel Center near Cabazon. According to Gonzales, this was the couple's last known credit card purchase, though she said that Morganstein did pull out some cash earlier that day. The couple also stopped for food at an In-N-Out, where they told friends they were planning to head to the Imperial Sand Dunes, south of the Salton Sea. The couple's last cellphone ping was at a tower located at 34225 Key Largo Ave., which is near the In-N-Out on Varner Road in Thousand Palms.

Gonzales tells LAist that the couple had planned to split up at some point after visiting the Imperial Sand Dunes. Morganstein had arranged to do a photoshoot with a client in Joshua Tree the following afternoon, and Mitkova intended to take a train back to Los Angeles. But Morganstein never showed up for the photoshoot, and Mitkova did not report to her job as a QA engineer at a medical software company on Monday.

Mitkova's supervisor, Troy Warkentin, tells LAist that it's unlike Mitkova to be absent from work without at least notifying him.

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"That's why I got worried," he said. "She'll usually ping me if she wants to work from home...but she never texted, never [messaged me], nothing."

Gonzales also echoed Warkentin's statements, saying that Mitkova would have called in if she knew she wouldn't be coming into work. She also said that because Morganstein had planned a photoshoot, he would have brought a bunch of gear along.

"[Morganstein] would never cancel on a photoshoot, especially if he'd packed his car full of gear. He lives and dies for photography," Gonzales said.

While initial search efforts focused on Joshua Tree, friends have since redirected their focus to the area around the Imperial Sand Dunes. Warkentin and Mitkova's other coworkers have called area hospitals, law enforcement and park rangers hoping that they could locate the couple or their car.

The couple's missing car is a dark blue 2012 Subaru Outback. The license plate is 6PRH231. Mitkova is described as a 27-year-old white woman with blonde hair and blue eyes, who is about 5'7"and 130 pounds. She was last seen wearing shorts and a white T-shirt with a print on it. Morganstein is described as a 33-year-old white man with black hair and brown eyes, who is 6'3" and 180 pounds. He was last seen wearing jeans, a brown shirt, a gray hoodie and a brown hat. Anyone with information should call Detective Guevara of the LAPD Missing Persons Unit at (213) 996-1800, or 1-877-527-3247 during non-business hours or on weekends. Anonymous tips can be made to LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or via www.lacrimestoppers.org.