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Student found dead in dorm, wrestling teammate charged with murder

The 18-year-old student, who was found unresponsive, died as a result of strangulation, according to the medical examiner's office.
Campbellsville University campus
Posted at 4:44 PM, Feb 26, 2024

After a Kentucky college student was found dead in his dorm over the weekend, his wrestling teammate was charged with murder.

Campbellsville University identified the deceased student as 18-year-old Josiah Kilman, who was on the school's wrestling team. The Campbellsville Police Department said Kilman was found unresponsive in his dorm around 12:43 a.m. Saturday. He was transported to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

The school was placed on lock down at the time, and police had identified 21-year-old Charles E. Escalera, Kilman's teammate, as a suspect wanted in the student's murder.

Escalera was located after a farmer spotted him in a barn and called police around 5:15 p.m. Saturday. He admitted to breaking in and stealing food, according The Associated Press. Escalera was arrested without incident and charged with murder and second-degree burglary.

Taylor County Coroner Daniel Cook said Kilman died as a result of strangulation.

"Our office obviously was notified, and it was through the investigation that we deemed the death suspicious. A little bit later on, we released to the public that we were looking for a person of interest due to findings through the investigation," Cook said, according to Scripps News Lexington.

Kilman's family said he had attended Campbellsville University on a biblical scholarship, according to a statement obtained by Scripps News Lexington.

"He was well known to many as an avid athlete and faithful religious leader," said the family statement. "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. 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."

Cook said while he can recall times when students had passed away, he did not remember an instance where a student had been charged in another's murder.

"One of the most challenging things about being in this line of work is we see a lot of death, and we see obviously, life taken from infants all the way to elderly adults, and life is always valuable and life is always important at any age. It's always more challenging when you see life taken from a younger individual because you know they had so much ahead of them," he said. 

"This is a small town, and a lot of people know each other. Campbellsville University is a huge staple in our community, a good Christian college, and so people obviously have been extremely shocked and saddened," said the coroner.

Campbellsville University President Joseph Hopkins said in a letter to students and staff that Kilman was a beloved member the community, "a bright light, and a person of incredible hope."

"We extend our deepest sympathies to Josiah's family, friends, and to all who had the privilege of knowing him. We stand together in prayer, offering our love and support during this time of mourning," Hopkins said.

"The safety and wellbeing of our community is paramount. Please know we have a range of resources available to you including our counseling services, faculty and staff mentors, and our campus ministry," he added.

Community members gathered in mourning at Ransdell Chapel Sunday night to pray and commemorate Kilman's life.

Escalera is being held at Taylor County Detention center on a $2 million bond, according to jail records.

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