It is not every day that you hear about a young man shooting his girlfriend, and her family holds no grudge. Chances are they would be extremely distraught, resentful and hold a grudge if not forever, but for a very long time. In this case, the opposite is true where A 20-year-old Rachel Nguyen was shot by her boyfriend, 22-year-old Joseph Orbeso while hiking through the Joshua Tree National Park in California.
The young couple, who hails from Orange County in California in the United States, went hiking in the nearby National Park in late July to celebrate Nguyen’s birthday. When they failed to return to the bed and breakfast where they had arranged to spend the night, the pair was immediately reported missing.
Three months later the couple was found in a harrowing circumstance. What was it? Click ‘Start Slideshow’ to know the shocking story!
Joshua Park – Not an easy place to be in
The Joshua Tree National Park, where Rachel and Joseph went hiking in July, is located in the lower part of the Colorado Desert and extends into the Mojave Desert. This landmark national park spans 1930 square kilometres (745 square miles) in the desert climate. According to The Joshua Tree Search and Rescue team, it is easy to get lost in the park.
They published a statement on their Facebook page saying that if you do not pay particular attention to landmarks, you can easily lose your way, even on a short hike just a short distance off the main road. While the National Park is an extremely beautiful location with an expanse of incredible mountain vistas, it can be an extremely treacherous terrain to explore.
In the case of Rachel and Joseph, their experience in the beautiful Joshua Tree turned out to be fatal.
Since Joshua Tree National Park is located in the middle of the desert, temperatures can soar well into the 100s in the summer months. Average temperatures can reach up to 100°F (38°C) in July and drop through the 90s in August and September to around 82°F (28°C) in October. The hot climate can be particularly gruelling for hikers if they are not well prepared with enough food and water.
The park is open to visitors throughout the year, with no restrictions for hikers when temperatures reach a maximum. Rachel and Joseph went hiking in late July when temperatures are at a maximum. Being outdoor enthusiasts, it is almost certain that they were well equipped with enough food and water to last throughout their planned hike.
However, they did not anticipate the events along with their trail that would eventually end in tragedy.
The search begins
Before setting off on their greatly anticipated hike through the park, the couple had mentioned to the host of the bed and breakfast where they were staying that they would be out on a hike for a couple of days and mentioned when they were likely to return. After 12 days straight of hiking, the couple was set to return. However, they never did.
Their host made contact with park authorities notifying them that the couple had not returned and soon a search mission was in place. Emergency crews were quickly deployed to search the area where Rachel and Joseph had planned to explore. The search crews consisted of people on foot making their way through the desert with horses and dogs as well aircraft to search from the air. Yet, the search soon became more difficult than anyone had anticipated.
Read on to know the true reason of the endless problems
The National Park is a popular hiking and camping destination that sees millions of visitors pass through the incredible landmark each year. Since the park is so large and expansive, it was necessary for officials to instate an exhaustive and widespread search throughout the park, starting at their last known location. On the day of their disappearance, a park official came across their empty vehicle where they had left it parked near a parking trailhead known as Maze Loop, right before they began hiking.
The search would eventually last three very long months before the couple was found. After a total of 2,100 long hours of searching throughout the park, the bodies of the 20-year-old woman and her 22-year-old boyfriend were finally found. The details of their disappearance were not immediately clear, however, upon closer inspection.
Where did they vanish? Was the couple dead?
Once the couple had been confirmed missing, Joseph’s father, Gilbert Orbeso insisted that he joined the search mission. He claimed that he could not just sit back and wait for something to happen, he needed to help and search for them. The last time Orbeso saw his son was on the day Rachel picked him up for their hiking trip. He explains further that the trip was in celebration of her birthday. The Californian couple from Orange County had dated before but remained friends and were very close, according to Orbeso’s father.
They also enjoyed the exploring outdoors very much, which is why they chose to explore the Joshua Tree National Park. Joseph’s father continued to explain that the search mission was extremely tough and that everything seemed as if it was moving in slow motion as he desperately searched for his son and Rachel, hoping to find them alive and well. Did they lose their way back home?
How did the police come to know about the couple?
The months of August and September were particularly difficult as there were no signs at all of the missing couples. That was until October 15th, when a devastating report came in from a park ranger. The report came through stating that two bodies had been spotted in the region. Sadly, they were reported as being deceased. The location of the bodies was to the far north along the Maze Loop trail, along which the two young adults would have hiked.
They were said to be situated inside a very steep section of a canyon. Since the Maze Loop trail is only a mere 4.8 miles (that’s just short of 8 km) and is ranked as a moderate hiking trail, there is no real risk of danger along the trail.
Yet, it seems as though this was not the case for the young Rachel and Joseph as they would never return.
At first, it was not certain yet if the bodies mentioned in the report belonged to Rachel and Joseph, but search teams remained hopeful. Authorities would need to visit the location to determine the identity of the bodies as well as the situation that put them there. Rescue crews were unable to access the steep canyon right away upon receiving the report, nor could they access it on foot.
They would have to wait for morning before being able to send out an aircraft to retrieve the bodies. The next day, a rescue aircraft flew authorities and emergency personnel into the canyon where the bodies were reported to be located. The rescue team was accompanied in the aircraft by detectives from the Homicide Detail of the Specialized Investigations Division, San Bernardino County.
What none of them knew before setting off, was that they were about to make an upsetting discovery.
What had actually happened?
Once the rescue detail was able to make their way down into the canyon, they would hopefully be able to put the pieces of the puzzle together, to finally know what had happened to Rachel and Joseph after three desperate months of searching for them. The couple’s bodies were located in the remote region, and rescue teams were able to take their rescue efforts further, and hopefully find the young hikers in a good state.
At the bottom of the canyon, in a shady area beneath a tree, the couple were found together. They were surrounded by clues that would eventually be able to give the rescue crew an idea of how the young lovers spent the final living hours. What they found was both shocking and heart-breaking, and they would never be able to know the full extent of the hikers had been through.
It was a situation that screamed out a million unanswerable questions. What was so heart breaking?
Done in by the terrain
As much of a relief as it was for the teams to find the location of Rachel and Joseph, it was heart-breaking to find them deceased. As the teams got to work at the scene, the details of the young couple’s circumstance quickly began to unfold. It was clear that Rachel had sustained a head injury, as her t-shirt had been wrapped around her forehead to function as a bandage.
It is also clear that they had sought shelter from the blazing hot sun beneath the tree at the bottom of the canyon. This is where they had run out of the water and likely dehydrated severely in the desert heat. In addition, rescuers also noticed that they had very little food left, but showed signs that they had been rationing it very carefully. However, the emergency responders found that the couple had died together in a tight embrace.
What was most heart-breaking about the discovery of the couple’s death?
Shot with handgun
Once the crews began searching through the scene it did not take them very long to discover what had possibly happened. The pieces of the puzzle were beginning to quickly fall into place. After noticing a small handgun lying on the ground near the young couples’ bodies, the team finally realized the distressing details of their fate. The entire team was suddenly flooded with an overwhelming amount of questions that could not be answered by anyone but the deceased couple.
Once the crew had made their way down into the canyon to retrieve the bodies, they were hoping to find out how the couple had died and why they had ended up in this most harrowing situation. Instead, what they found was a heart-breaking and unexplainable situation. The 20-year-old Rachel and her 22-year-old boyfriend, Joseph had both been shot with the handgun.
The loudest question plaguing the team’s minds though, was why?
What happened prior to shooting?
Upon closer inspection of the bodies, search and rescue officials could confirm that both Rachel and Joseph had been shot using the gun found at the scene. It was also clear that the cause of death for both young adults was due to the gunshot wounds they had sustained. Although, autopsies would need to be conducted before any assumptions could be qualified as true.
At this point, the rescue team could confirm that the young hikers had completely run out of the water and were extremely low on food supplies, which they had clearly been rationing very carefully. The questions continued to scream from the harrowing situation, with very few visible answers. Rescuers were left to speculate as to what happened prior to the shooting, who had pulled the trigger and why?
Was it out of sympathy given their tight embrace or was it out of anger?
Accompanied by Orbeso’s father who insisted on being a part of the search team, the rescue team was able to retrieve the bodies from the canyon and transport them out of the park. The bodies of Rachel and Joseph were taken directly to the San Bernardino County Coroner for further investigation. It was then that the bodies were officially identified to be the missing couple, 20-year-old Rachel Nguyen and 22-year-old Joseph Orbeso.
There was some relief for the families of the deceased at this point, as they could have some closure and stop wondering where Rachel and Joseph were and whether or not they were still alive. However, the horror story was not entirely over. The coroner would still need to carry out autopsies on the bodies before a cause of death could be established. Since the couple left no letter or note explaining what had happened, the autopsy report would be vital in telling their story.
What did the report state?
Still not clear
With the hope that the autopsies would be able to answer all the questions that clouded the minds of both the Nguyen and Orbeso families as well as the rescue teams and investigators, the coroner’s report was released. While the coroner was unable to give an exact date as to when the couple had each died, it was clear that they had both died from gunshot wounds. Rachel’s head injury was confirmed in the report and is speculated to have been a result of falling down a steep section along the trail.
The autopsies also provided evidence that would answer the biggest question of all. The evidence shows that Joseph had shot Rachel first, before tragically turning the gun on himself. While that one question may have been answered, there are stills hundreds that will remain unanswered.
Further investigations would later make the situation a fair bit clearer.
Choice had to be made
Further investigation by officials confirmed that the handgun was registered to Joseph for work. He worked as a security guard back in Orange County and carried it while he was on duty. According to Joseph’s best friend, Austin Young, he was most likely carrying the gun to protect Rachel out in the park while they hiked. He adds that he thinks they got lost on their hike and began suffering from the extreme heat and lack of resources.
Without a single drop of water, survival in the blazing heat of the desert is beyond impossible. Without outside help, the couple had very little chance of surviving based on the resources they had left, and they had clearly realized that that was the case. Young concluded that “their choice was between a slow, painful death or a quick one.
What way did they choose?
Knowing how the couple had ultimately died opens up a variety of possibilities for more speculation. Since investigations are still ongoing, there are no definitive findings to fully explain the story of how Rachel Nguyen and Joseph Orbeso ended up at the bottom of the canyon and why they ultimately decided to rather die by gunshot over dehydration and heat exposure.
However, the Sheriff’s Department of the San Bernardino County has confirmed the couple’s deaths as a murder-suicide. That is, after technically murdering Rachel, Joseph turned the gun on himself to commit suicide. Given the stability of the history of their relationship before leaving on the hiking trip as well as the circumstances in which their bodies were found, investigators are calling the couple’s deaths a “sympathetic murder-suicide”.
Was it a wise decision to die instantly by putting an end to their suffering?
Died in embrace
It is likely that the couple would have been suffering severely from the heat and dehydration. It is clear that Joseph found the shady place for them, where he could care for Rachel after sustaining the injuries to her head. When their bodies were found under the tree, they had covered their legs with clothing as a protective shield from the blazing sun. It is difficult to reason in one’s head how shooting oneself would be a preferable option.
Unless you find yourself in that situation, it really is impossible to qualify it. However, in Rachel and Joseph’s case, they opted for a quick death rather than suffering a slow and painful death that was imminent. Given this reasoning and the way their bodies were positioned in a tight and desperate embrace, it is clear that they were desperately suffering together.
But, does this truly explain everything?
Shock for the families
It is a terrible thought to try and imagine how the families of the young hikers must feel having tragically lost their children in this way. You might expect that the family of the young, 20-year-old Rachel, with her life ahead of her, would be angry at Joseph for shooting their daughter. Thankfully this story has a happier side since Rachel’s family have expressed that they do not hold any grudges against Joseph or his family, as they expressed in a statement to a local newspaper.
They continued to explain that they are indeed thankful that their bodies were found and that they will be able to honour Rachel and Joseph by giving them a proper burial in order to truly lay their bodies to rest.
Both families have expressed their gratitude to the rescue crews for finding their bodies, even though the investigation continues.
Motive not known
Since Joseph’s motive for shooting himself and Rachel will never be known, officials will need to continue the investigation. Diving deeper into the story, Rachel’s family have explained that they believe Joseph’s actions where ultimately out of kindness. The indications that Rachel had sustained an injury to her head with a t-shirt wrapped around her forehead like a bandage, she was obviously suffering and in pain in addition to being dehydrated and malnourished.
Young woman’s family are certain that Joseph was caring for her and her injuries, when the decision was made to end their suffering. Whether they decided this together or if Joseph ultimately made the decision on her behalf, no one will ever know. The choice to end their pain and suffering with a gun could not have been an easy one, but a necessary one nonetheless.
Both families are at peace with the outcome of their exploration. Did they have any choice?
Rachel’s uncle, Son Nguyen explained to a newspaper reporter at the Desert Sun that they hold no grudges. Based on what the on-scene investigators explained to the family, Joseph’s actions were compassionate and sympathetic. Nguyen further explains that they believed Rachel was in distress and they cannot judge Joseph’s actions until they themselves are placed in such a situation. He further extended his condolences to Joseph’s family for their loss.
In an email that he wrote to the San Jose Mercury News, Joseph’s father, Gilbert Orbeso described his son as a thoughtful, caring and kind person, and that is the way people should remember him. He would not have shot Rachel for any other reason but to end her suffering. “The way we found their bodies tells us that they were in desperate need to find shade, to protect themselves from the sun,” he wrote. They were in a dire place, desperate for relief.
What else can you differ from such an end?
A tragic end
It was an impossible and difficult choice that had to be made, but the 22-year-old man made the dignified and compassionate choice to end the suffering that he and Rachel were experiencing. Given what we know about the couple and all the details of their tragic deaths, we can only describe it as an act of true love. They cannot be judged for their actions as they were merely trying to survive the hard elements out in the Joshua Tree National Park in the hot temperatures of late July.
It is comforting to know that these two, young adults were able to find comfort in each other in their darkest hour and make a decision that was right for them is the dire situation. Finding the bodies of Rachel Nguyen and Joseph Orbeso allowed their families to have the closure they needed and the chance to lay their dear children to rest with a proper memorial.