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Young Couple Found Dead In Joshua Tree Died By Murder-Suicide, Authorities Say [Updated]

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[Update 10/22/17]

Son Nguyen, an uncle of Rachel Nguyen, told the Desert Sun on Saturday that he and family members believe that Rachel had died of a "sympathetic murder-suicide."

“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,” said Son. He said that Rachel's body was found with a t-shirt wrapped around her head, as if used as a bandage. “Rachel possibly injured herself sliding down a cliff and Joseph went after her and took care of her,” Son added, saying that Joseph Orbeso had possibly shot her to ease her pain.

Cynthia Buchman, a spokesperson with the San Bernardino County sheriff’s, told the Desert Sun that there are no signs that Orbeso had wanted to harm Rachel.

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The bodies of 21-year-old Joseph Orbeso and 20-year-old Rachel Nguyen were discovered Sunday in Joshua Tree National Park, after the couple had gone missing in late July. Now, authorities say they believe that the couple had died in a murder-suicide, with Orbeso shooting Nguyen with a gun, then turning the firearm on himself afterward, according to a Friday release by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department.

“During autopsy, injuries consistent with a gunshot wound were located on both Nguyen and Orbeso,” said the release. “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 release adds that the bodies were found in “a steep canyon to the far north of the Maze Loop Trailhead” that was not accessible by car. Upon discovery of the remains, homicide detectives were called to the scene because of “suspicious circumstances and visible injuries to the decedents.”

The pair, who hailed from Orange County, was reported missing on July 28 after they’d failed to check out of an Airbnb rental they’d rented in the area. Their vehicle was discovered later that day near the Maze Loop, by the park’s west entrance, reports KTLA. A subsequent nine-day search involving 250 search and rescue members, aircraft teams and canine units failed to find the hikers.

According to ABC7, the search team that found the bodies on Sunday included Orbeso’s father, Gilbert Orbeso. “I feel that we have closure and we know we found them. That was our main goal was to find them...Hope they can rest in peace now," said Gilbert. ABC7 reported that the bodies were found embracing one another.

The bodies were later identified by the coroner on Wednesday and Thursday, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

[Update: 3:45 p.m.]

The San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department Homicide Unit told KESQ that a gun was found near Joseph Orbeso's body, and that the firearm was registered to him.