Now that their pain is forever ended, it's evident that two lost hikers had struggled to survive before losing hope in the scorching heat of the Joshua Tree National Park, authorities and family members have concluded.
On Oct. 15, after nearly three months of searching, the bodies of Rachel Nguyen, 20, and Joseph Orbeso, 22, were found embracing each other beneath a tree in the bottom of a deep canyon, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff-Coroner's Department. Nearby, authorities found snack food wrappers and empty water bottles. It was apparent they had been trying to extend their food through rationing, said spokeswoman Cindy Bachman. Clothing had been adjusted, apparently to shield sunburned skin. Wounds had been bandaged, his parents said.
Authorities also found a handgun, registered to Orbeso. Autopsies determined both had incurred fatal gunshot wounds. Authorities concluded Orbeso shot Nguyen, then himself, apparently in a final, desperate act to end their suffering.
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A "mercy killing" is what Orbeso's parents believe happened.
"I can't even imagine what he went through in his mind to even think that he could do this," Corina Mallari, Orbeso's mother, told NBC affiliate KMIR. "He didn't want to do it ... His heart was broken, his heart was broken for her. It was beyond courage."
Orbeso brought along the gun to protect Nguyen from a stalker, Orbeso's parents said, citing information in an email from a third party.
Nguyen and Orbeso — both from Orange County — had met while students at California State University Fullerton.
The Nguyen family does not seek to blame anyone for her death, Rachel Nguyen's uncle, Son Nguyen, indicated in a statement Friday.
"We extend our heartfelt condolences to the Orbeso Family … they will remain in our prayers," Son Nguyen wrote. "We thank God that we'll be able to give Rachel a proper burial and lay her to rest."