JOSHUA TREE NATIONAL PARK, Calif. - The discovery of two embracing bodies in Joshua Tree National Park on Sunday may finally give some answers to the families of a pair hikers who have been missing for nearly three months.
A source close to the investigation first confirmed the news to I-Team Investigator Karen Devine. The National Park Service has since confirmed "hikers discovered two bodies in a remote region of Joshua Tree National Park" in a release.
21-year-old Joseph Orbeso and 20-year-old Rachel Nguyen were last heard from on July 27. Their car was found in the park near the Maze Loop trailhead. Their last known contact was a cell phone ping in the area; their belongings were still at the rented home they never checked out of.
The remains were found today on the north side of the Maze Loop trail. Joseph Orbeso's father Gilbert was with members of Joshua Tree Search and Rescue when the bodies were found.
"I would tell Joseph that I love him very much and I hope they can rest in peace now," Orbeso said Sunday evening.
In a Facebook post Sunday morning, Gilbert wrote "Searching for Joseph and Rachel. God protect and give us strength." Hours later, Gilbert and JOSAR searchers discovered the two bodies. Searchers say the bodies were embracing each other.
"I believed that I was going to find them. I didn't know when, but I had my answer today," Gilbert said.
The searchers said they were covering new grounds and were scaling 30 foot cliffs and boulders. They were just 2 miles from Maze Loop when they came across water bottles, clothing, and food wrappers that lead them to the bodies.
A coroner's helicopter overhead picked up the remains, which will be sent to the San Bernardino coroners office to confirm the identities.
"A sense of reliefe that we have found them after going a long time on these hikes. I feel like we have closure. We know we found them. That was our main goal, to find them. And I'm glad we did that with these great people here with me and the rest of everyone," Gilbert said.
I-Team investigator Karen Devine has been following the case closely, even joining Gilbert Orbeso and the JOSAR search team on one of their weekly hikes to look for any clues.
The lead detective on the case from the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Office is now on the way to the scene. Official identification of the bodies has not yet been made, sources say.
In the days following the pair's disappearance, rescue teams brought dogs to search the area to try and pick up a scent from the missing hikers. Because of this, park rangers blocked off the area where the search was being conducted so the dogs won't get confused by the scent of other people.
The intense heat and rugged terrain proved challenging for searchers, but was also considered as something that could help them find clues.
“There were some footprints and we found them in sporadic places, through intermittent areas through the park," George Land, public information officer for the Park said in late July. "One thing that will happen when people are in heavy heat stress is that they’ll start taking off pieces of clothing. We haven’t found any of that so far.”
The days stretched into weeks. Then months. Some tips did continue to come in. In September, sunglasses found in the park caught attention of searchers. A witness claimed to have seen the pair outside of the park even after they were reported missing. U.S Marshals were reportedly set to join the search in September. But it wasn't until today that it was confirmed the pair were most likely in the park.
This is a story the I-Team has been on top of for months and continues to track. Stay with KESQ News Channel 3 and CBS Local 2 for continuing coverage of this breaking news.
Do you have a tip you want the I-Team to investigate?
Call 760-773-3333 or email I-Team@kesq.com