josiah kilman
NBC News/YouTube

A wrestler and theology major at a private Christian university in Kentucky has allegedly been killed by another university student and fellow wrestler, according to authorities. Eighteen-year-old Josiah Kilman was pronounced dead at Taylor Regional Hospital after police officers reported to Campbellsville University in central Kentucky. He was transported to the Kentucky State Examiner’s Office for an autopsy.

According to a statement from the Taylor County Coroner’s Office, Kilman’s cause of death was “asphyxia by manual strangulation.” Charles Escalera, 21, who’s also known as “Zeke,” was arrested and charged with the murder. Campbellsville University President Joseph Hopkins said in a statement, “Our campus family is grieving a heavy loss at this moment, and our hearts are broken. Josiah Kilman was a beloved member of our community. He was a bright light and a person of incredible hope. His faith was contagious across our campus. Because of the faithful life and bold witness he lived in front of us, we take comfort in knowing he is with his Lord and Savior right now.”

Hopkins stressed that the “safety and wellbeing of our community is paramount,” highlighting that the school has a “range of resources” available, including counseling services, faculty and staff mentors and the campus ministry. Kilman was a first-year student from Columbia Falls, Montana. Escalera was a student on the team during the 2021-2022 season, according to an archived roster. A motive remains unclear. Hopkins said, “I gathered in prayer with our wrestlers and their coaches. I told them the wrestling team is about to get much bigger as you, our staff, students, and this community stand with them over the coming days and months.”

Kilman’s family released a statement to local media, saying he “had a passionate heart on fire for the Lord” and that he was attending the university on a “biblical scholarship with the dreams of leading others to follow the Lord through the Christian principles.” The statement reads, “He was well known to many as an avid athlete and faithful religious leader.” It continues, “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.”

State police arrested Escalera following a report from a farmer of a suspicious person being seen in a barn, KRTV reported, noting that he has been charged with murder and second-degree burglary, citing court documents. A bond was set at $2 million. Police revealed in arrest documents that Escalera was found in a residence and later confessed to breaking in and stealing food, according to The Associated Press. Escalera’s arraignment has been continued to March 6.

According to U.S. News & World Report, Campbellsville University enrolled 4,666 undergraduate students in the fall of 2022. The institution was initially founded as the Russell Creek Academy by the Russell Creek Baptist Association in 1906. It was renamed Campbellsville Junior College in 1924 and then Campbellsville College in 1959. The university hosted a worship and healing service in Ransdell Chapel. Over $70,000 has been raised through a GoFundMe account to support the Kilman family.

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