The death of two California hikers, whose bodies were found last week, has been ruled a murder-suicide, but family members and friends believe they may have decided to kill themselves to prevent more suffering after getting lost in Joshua Tree National Park, reports said.
Rachel Nguyen, 20, and Joseph Orbeso, 22, had been missing for nearly three months after they went on a hike in late July and didn’t return to their Airbnb rental.
Crews spent 2,100 hours trying to locate the pair, but their bodies were found on Oct 15.
Nguyen and Orbeso both had gunshots wounds and authorities believe Orbeso shot Nguyen and then himself, according to the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. Police also found a gun registered to Orbeso, who worked as a security guard, at the scene.
Family members told the Associated Press that investigators said the pair died in a “sympathetic murder-suicide,” after they had reportedly run out of water and had little food left.
Police said the pair was locked in an embrace when they were found.
"We hold no grudges against Joseph or the Orbeso family," Nguyen’s family said in a statement. "We thank God that we'll be able to give Rachel a proper burial and lay her to rest.”
Orbeso’s best friend, Austin Young, told the Associated Press that he believes they were suffering.
"I think they got lost and were suffering in 100-degree heat," Young said. "They had a choice of a slow and painful death or a quick death and they made the choice of a quick death."
The two were last seen entering Joshua Tree National Park early on July 27 and were reported missing the next day after the owner of the Airbnb rental where they had stayed called authorities when they did not check out on time and left their belongings.
Nguyen's car was found later that day near the entrance to the Maze Loop trail, USA Today reported.
"Since we don't have any evidence (note, message) to tell us why the shooting occurred, we are left to speculate," sheriff’s department spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman said. “Knowing that they rationed food, had no water and were seeking shade certainly sheds a different light on the apparent dire circumstances."
The Joshua Tree Search and Rescue team said on its Facebook page that it's easy to get lost in the park which covers more than 1,200 square miles of the Mojave and Colorado deserts.