Kentucky college student strangled wrestler in dorm room, charged with murder: police

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A Kentucky college wrestler was strangled in his dorm room this weekend, prompting an hours-long manhunt that led to a campus-wide lockdown and another wrestler’s arrest on murder charges. 

Police were called to Campbellsville University around 12:43 a.m. Saturday when 18-year-old Josiah Kilman was found unresponsive. 

The Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the student’s cause of death was asphyxiation via manual strangulation, the Campbellsville Police Department wrote in a Monday press release. 

A warrant was issued for 21-year-old Charles Escalera’s arrest shortly after Kilman’s body was found – police distributed security images from a nearby Lowe’s, where he was last seen. Escalera and Kilman were both students at Campbellsville.

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Campbellsville University, a private Christian school around 85 miles south of Louisville, was placed on lockdown with students ordered to “shelter in place.” 

The college announced that the lockdown was lifted and Escalera had been arrested at 6:43 p.m. via Twitter. 

Kentucky Police carried out the arrest around 5:15 p.m. after receiving reports of a “suspicious male inside a barn,” according to a media release. 

Escalera is in custody at Taylor County Detention Center without bail. It was unclear whether he had retained an attorney at press time.

“A motive for the crime is still undetermined at this time,” Campbellsville Police Chief Shannon Wilson wrote in the department’s release. “However, the case is still ongoing.”

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Kilman, a Montana native, was listed on the university’s 2023-2024 wrestling team roster online. Escalera was on the team during the 2021-2022 school year, according to the school’s athletic website, and won the 106-pound wrestling state title in 2017, according to the Kentucky High School Athletic Association. 

It is unclear whether the two students knew each other. The Taylor County Attorney’s office could not be reached for comment at press time.

After Escalera’s arrest, police urged students at the college to “secure [their] residences, secure vehicles, and increase awareness of [their] surroundings,” in another release. The school hosted a prayer and healing service on Sunday, according its account on X.

“Josiah’s teammates are understandably devastated,” University President Joseph Hopkins said at the Sunday event, according to LEX18. “It is a powerful team. They are just so strong in their bond with one another [and] in their bond of faith.”

A GoFundMe organized by Kilman’s family to cover his burial expenses and transport his body home to Montana has raised over $54,000. 

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