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Columbia Falls teen is dead in Kentucky; man arrested on murder charge

Hungry Horse News | February 26, 2024 12:00 AM

An 18-year-old Columbia Falls man is dead and a 21-year-old suspect has been arrested and charged with murder.

Josiah Kilman, who graduated from Columbia Falls High School and was attending Campbellsville University in Kentucky, was found unresponsive in his dorm room at approximately 12:43 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 24.

Kilman was transported to the Kentucky State Medical Examiner’s Office in Louisville for an autopsy. A preliminary cause of death was not released. 

During the investigation, Campbellsville Police obtained an arrest warrant for Charles E. Escalera for Kilman’s murder. 

Escalera was also a student at Campbellsville and wrestled for the University in the 2021-22 season, the team Kilman had just joined as a freshman. 

Escalera was found hiding in a barn and was arrested without incident, according to a press release. He was formally charged with murder and second-degree burglary, according to Taylor County records. The burglary charge stems from Escalera allegedly breaking into a home and stealing food after the incident with Kilman, according to the Associated Press.

According to Taylor County, Kentucky coroner Daniel Cook, Kilman died as a result of manual strangulation, the Associated Press reported.

“Campbellsville University is grieving the loss of one of our family. We have lost a student and our hearts are broken. During this devastating time, the continued safety of our students and the residents of our community are our primary concern. With consultation from local law enforcement, we will continue to implement every measure necessary to protect and support students and our community,” Campbellsville University President, Dr. Joseph Hopkins said in a statement.

Kilman was a captain of the Columbia Falls soccer team his junior and senior seasons and a member of the wrestling team as well. Both teams won state championships with Kilman as a team member. He graduated in June, 2023.

In a statement to WLEX-TV, the Kilman family said Josiah “had a passionate heart on fire for the Lord.” He attended Campbellsville University on a biblical scholarship and was a theology major. 

Those who knew him described him as gifted, determined, magnetic. He was very outspoken about his Faith, and was always comfortable sharing his beliefs. 

“What makes him a good captain, he could say the hard things to his friends,” Wildcat soccer coach O’Brien Byrd said, “Things that needed to be said but maybe weren’t a popular opinion or they didn’t want to hear it.”

“He was physically strong, he was an unbelievable wrestler and he had this physical power about him, but yet he was kind. He was gentle and he didn’t abuse that power. He realized he was in a position of strength, and it was strength to be gentle.”

Even as a teenage boy, sometimes goofy, “a wildman, a rascal, a stinker,” Kilman knew he was a role model to the young people around him and was a show of character for them to look up to. Byrd said you couldn’t pin down Kilman’s best friend, if you asked forty people they would all say he was theirs. 

“His whole life, he wasn’t afraid of challenge,” Wildcat wrestling coach Jessie Schafer said. “Kind of everything a person looks for in a young individual to represent everything he believed in.”

“I know right now, today, there’s a lot of young individuals that are hurting and looking for answers, which to me, when you talk about legacy, leaving something behind… kids looked up to him in our program. They looked up to him as a person, they looked up to his character.”

A gofundme page has been set up to support the Kilman family, available at