Distraught family members of American Douglas McAuthur McCain, killed in Syria after allegedly joining forces with a militant group, spoke to news outlets and turned to social media Tuesday to express shock and sadness and in some cases, to defend their relative.
U.S. officials confirmed McCain's death in Syria Tuesday and said he had traveled there to fight with an extremist organization, likely the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
"We were aware of U.S. Citizen Douglas McAuthur McCain's presence in Syria and can confirm his death," U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement posted by Reuters.
NBC News first reported that McCain had been killed in Syria in a battle between two opposition groups and said it had seen images of his body, bearing a unique neck tattoo, and his passport to verify his identity.
McCain's family expressed disbelief over news of his alleged ties to the violent extremist group ISIL, which last week posted a video of the beheading last week of American journalist James Foley.
Kenneth McCain, an uncle, told CNN's Jim Sciutto that his family is "devastated" and that they were "just as surprised as the country" over reports of Douglas McCain's connection to ISIL.
McCain was born in Illinois, grew up and attended high school in Minnesota and later moved to San Diego, according to published reports. Two cousins still living in Minnesota spoke to the Minneapolis Star Tribune Tuesday and said they had been in touch with McCain as recently as Friday. He told them he was in Turkey.
Kenyata McCain said she noticed some posts on her cousin's Facebook page supporting ISIL, also called ISIS and the Islamic State. His Facebook page was taken down Tuesday.
“I know that he had strong Muslim beliefs, but I didn’t know that he was in support of ISIS. I didn’t think he would be," she said.
Another cousin who requested anonymity said his cousin was not a "radical," adding McCain worked as a caregiver for people with special needs in California and that he had a infant daughter about to turn one.
“I don’t know what he went over there for, I don’t want people to get the idea that he was some kind of monster," he said.
Delecia McCain, who identified herself as Douglas McCain’s sister, posted to Facebook late Tuesday afternoon expressing shock at the loss of her oldest brother.
Two people identified as cousins of McCain on Facebook also posted status updates expressing disbelief.
“This is unreal to me,” wrote Terrence Green after posting a news link describing his cousin as a “homegrown terrorist.”
Robyn Roland left an emotional post that mentioned Judie McCain, Douglas' mother:
“I can't be on FB today….My family going Ham wit da pictures of my Cuz. Dis is crazy. Maybe its just me but I keep holding on to da thought its a mistake and it wasn't him. Aunty Judie Mccain you always been strong and I know u gonna continue. Love u!”