A 28-year-old Montclair man was fatally shot in Orange early Thursday, Sept. 22, acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens II announced.

The man, Katon Washington, was found by Orange police suffering from gunshot wounds in the area of Aldine and Cleveland streets about 1 a.m., the prosecutor's office said. He was taken to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced dead at 1:43 a.m.

As a young boy, around the age of 7, Washington joined Montclair’s recreational wrestling team. From that age and beyond, Washington gained a close connection to his wrestling teammates and coaches, Scott White and Mike Freedman. 

White coached Washington throughout his time competing for the Glenridge Middle School wrestling team. When Washington started attending Montclair High School, where he also wrestled, White became his guidance counselor. 

“I ​​was a pretty regular presence in his life, he was always coming to see me and I think I tried to be a friend and mentor to him,” White said, “Even after he graduated, I've stayed in touch with him and tried to help him out as much as I could.” 

Wrestling, White said, was a center point in Washington’s life. While attending high school between 2009 and 2012, he became a member of the varsity team. As a freshman, he had the most wins in the team’s history with 29, according to his 2012 player profile. He was also the only freshman to ever be made a captain and the first Mountie to advance to the regional tournament, winning the championship in 2012 and placing 8th in the state, which is something former high school coach Freedman said no one has done since. 

“Katon was my first and my only freshman that I've ever named a captain,” Freedman said. “Typically, it's like a junior or senior role. He was a captain for all four years. Never had it since, never had it before.” 

Freedman said that even after Washington graduated, he would return to Montclair High School and work with the younger wrestlers. 

“They looked up to Katon tremendously,” he said. “He always worked hard. He never missed practice. He was as respectful as can be.” 

Freedman added: “He elevated the room. When he practiced, he practiced at such a high level, and he worked so hard, that it brought every single person on the team to train even that much harder.” 

For both White and Freedman, it was easy to see the passion Washington had for wrestling. White even recalls a visit to Washington’s home, where he witnessed his love for the sport firsthand.  

“I visited his room once, at his house, and I could see how important it was to him because everything in his room was about his wrestling,” White said. “He had medals on the walls, and he had newspaper clippings and pictures of all his peers, and I think that that was something that was really, really important to him. And I'm really glad that I was part of his life for that.” 

In a Facebook post, White said Washington “was like a son to me,” and that he “was like family.” White’s son, Zach White, was Washinton’s wrestling partner in high school. White’s family and the other families of Washington’s teammates felt as though he was a special part of their lives, White said. 

“He was such a kind of innocent kid,” White said. “He clearly was somebody who, you know, just never spoke badly of anyone and was just a great kid. I’m devastated that he’s gone” 

To express condolences, a mother of one of Washington’s wrestling teammates, Nancy Miles, wrote an email to White. 

“We are all heartbroken and in disbelief,” Miles said in the email. “All the tournaments we were at when he was a little kid and so much time over the years we all spent with him. ... It’s just heartbreaking.” 

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force and the Orange Police Department are investigating Washington’s death. As of Friday morning, no arrests had been made.

The prosecutor requests that anyone with information contact the tips line at 1-877-TIPS-4EC or 1-877-847-7432. Calls will be kept confidential.