SBSD – Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Department
DECEDENTS: Rachel Nguyen, age 20 of Westminster and Joseph Orbeso, age 22 of Lakewood
On Sunday, October 15, 2017, at 1:50 pm, Sheriff’s dispatch received a call from a park ranger at the Joshua Tree National Park regarding two deceased persons located inside the park. Deputies from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station were flown to the area as it was not accessible by vehicle, and was described as a steep canyon to the far north of the Maze Loop Trailhead.
Due to suspicious circumstances and visible injuries to the decedents, detectives from the Specialized Investigations Division – Homicide Detail were requested to respond to the location. Due to loss of daylight, additional investigation and the recovery of the bodies was postponed until Monday, October 16th.
On Monday morning, October 16th, Sheriff’s Aviation transported investigators to the location to conduct the investigation and recover the bodies. The decedents were transported to the Coroner’s Division in San Bernardino.
Between Wednesday and Thursday, October 17th and 18th, the decedents were identified as Rachel Nguyen, age 20 and Joseph Orbeso, age 22 both of Orange County. During autopsy, injuries consistent with a gunshot wound were located on both Nguyen and Orbeso. 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 couple had been reported missing on July 28th when deputies from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station were contacted by the owner of a bed and breakfast in the Morongo Basin area. The owner told deputies his guests Rachel Nguyen and Joseph Orbeso possibly went hiking in the Joshua Tree National Park that morning and had not returned to check out. Later the same day, Joshua Tree National Park Service (NPS) Rangers located the couple’s vehicle near a trail head in the park. The vehicle was unoccupied, Nguyen and Orbeso were nowhere to be found.
A search was immediately initiated by NPS along with their search and rescue team. On July 29, NPS requested assistance from the Sheriff’s department. This began a large-scale search for the couple where over 250 Search and Rescue members comprised of both full time and Volunteers were used over the course of nine days to search for the couple. All assets including aircraft, dog teams, horse teams, and ground teams were utilized. Search and Rescue Volunteers donated more than 2,100 hours during the attempts to locate the missing couple. During that time, more than 10 search personnel suffered injuries while conducting search operations. On August 6, 2017, after evaluating the continuing risk to personnel vs the reward of finding the couple alive, the search was scaled back to smaller teams on the weekends. Morongo Search and Rescue along with NPS continued searching.
Detectives from the Morongo Basin Sheriff’s Station have continued to investigate any and all leads regarding the missing hikers.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Specialized Investigations Division, Homicide Detail, Detective Scott Stafford or Sergeant Robert Warrick (909) 387-3589. Callers wishing to remain anonymous are urged to call the We-Tip Hotline at 1-800-78-CRIME (27463), or you may leave information on the We-Tip website at www.wetip.com.