Kentucky Christian College Student Was Strangled to Death, Coroner Finds

GoFundMe; Taylor County Detention Center
GoFundMe; Taylor County Detention Center

A Kentucky college student who died after being found unresponsive in his dorm room over the weekend was strangled to death, the local coroner announced.

Police and emergency medical personnel were dispatched to the campus of Campbellsville University, a private Christian school about 85 miles south of Louisville, at 12:43 a.m. Saturday morning, Taylor County Coroner Daniel T. Cook said in a statement on Monday. There, they discovered 18-year-old Josiah Malachi Kilman, a Columbia Falls, Montana, native, unconscious and not breathing, according to Cook. He was rushed to Taylor Regional Hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Cook said.

Preliminary autopsy results “show that the cause of death for Kilman was Asphyxia by Manual Strangulation,” according to Cook’s statement.

Kilman’s alleged killer, 21-year-old Charles “Zeke” Escalera, was arrested late Saturday afternoon, and initially charged with second-degree burglary for breaking into a house one county over. He was subsequently charged with murder over Kilman’s death, and remains detained at the Taylor County Detention Center with full-cash bail set at $2 million. Kilman was a member of the Campbellsville University wrestling team, according to school officials; Escalera wrestled for the team during the 2021-2022 academic year.

A screenshot of the Taylor County Detention Center jail roster, which shows Charles “Zeke” Escalera facing burglary and murder charges.
Taylor County Detention Center

“[A] motive for the crime is still undetermined at this time,” police said Monday, noting that the investigation is ongoing.

“This is an incredibly difficult time for our community,” Campbellsville University President Joseph Hopkins said in a statement. “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.”

Kilman’s family issued a statement of their own, calling the student-athlete “a beautiful, young, 18 year old Christian man… who had a passionate heart on fire for the Lord.”

A GoFundMe campaign set up by relatives said the cost to transport Kilman’s body from Kentucky back to Montana will cost “over $10,000,” not including burial expenses. It has raised more than $56,000 as of Monday afternoon.

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