College wrestler dies from strangulation; teammate accused in athlete’s death

Josiah Kilman and Charles Escalera.

CAMPBELLSVILLE, Ky. — A college wrestler in central Kentucky died from strangulation, and one of his teammates has been charged with killing him, authorities said.

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Josiah Kilman, 18, of Columbia Falls, Montana, was found unresponsive in his dormitory room at around 12:43 a.m. EST on Saturday, WLEX-TV reported. Kilman was a freshman at Campbellsville University, a private Christian school. He was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead, according to the television station.

Taylor County Coroner Daniel Cook said Kilman died as a result of strangulation, WLEX reported. Authorities are still looking for a motive.

Kilman’s teammate, Charles E. “Zeke” Escalera, 21, of Moore, Oklahoma, was identified as a suspect and was arrested at about 5:15 p.m. on Sunday after a farmer saw him in a barn, according to The Associated Press. The suspect admitted to breaking into the barn and stealing food.

Escalera was charged with murder and second-degree burglary, according to Taylor County Detention Center online booking records.

According to records from the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, Escalera, won the 106-pound wrestling state title with Union County in 2017, WFIE-TV reported.

Campbellsville University listed him as one of their wrestlers in their 2021-22 media guide.

Kilman, who graduated from Columbia Falls High School in June 2023, was captain of his high school’s soccer team in 2022 and also wrestled, according to the Daily Inter Lake newspaper of Kalispell, Montana.

In a statement, Campbellsville University President Joseph Hopkins called Kilman a “bright light, and a person of incredible hope,” adding that his faith was contagious, the Flathead Beacon reported.

Kilman’s family said he had attended Campbellsville University on a biblical scholarship. In a statement to WLEX, family members called Kilman “an avid athlete” and a “faithful religious leader.”

“Josiah influenced many hearts as he was a true example of compassion, kindness, and love. His example compelled so many others to make the same changes he wished to see in the world, and his impact on their lives will never truly be forgotten,” the family said. “During this time, his family is grieving and asks for privacy to deal with the devastating loss of their beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, and true friend known to so many.”

A vigil was held on the Campbellsville campus on Sunday night.

“A lot of people really meant what they said and the prayers that were coming out of each person,” Oliver Raga, a student who attended the vigil, told WLEX. “I believe that everyone on campus really had a heart for him, and it feels a tragedy not only that the family feels but also the atrocity that happened that night.”

Reyn Judd, who leads the college ministry at 3trees Church, told WLEX that faith, which he shared with Kilman, will help the university heal from the tragedy.

“I don’t know how you make it. I don’t know how you go through times like this without that,” Judd told the television station. I think it’s in these times it’s the things that you don’t see that are working in the background, the things that are working for that greater good that pull us together and hold us upright when we feel like falling down on a puddle in the floor.”

A defense attorney listed in court records for Escalera did not immediately return a phone call and email seeking comment, according to the AP. Escalera’s bail was set at $2 million for the murder charge and he is being held without bond, online booking records show.

His arraignment was continued to March 6.

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