A U.S. veteran who returned to Iraq as a civilian contractor was shot to death while protecting American diplomats in Iraq, his employer said Sunday.

Justin Pope, 25, died after being shot late Wednesday or early Thursday in Kirkuk, said Douglas Ebner, a spokesman for Falls Church, Va.-based DynCorp International.

Detroit-area television station WJBK reported Saturday that Pope was killed by sniper fire. Ebner denied that, saying Pope died of "an accidental gunshot wound." He would not elaborate, saying the incident was under investigation by DynCorp and the U.S. State Department.

"We're very sorry that this happened," Ebner said. "The family has our condolences."

Pope's mother, Patricia Salser, said her son joined the Marines after graduating from Riverview High School in 2002. He served two military tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning to Iraq as a DynCorp employee, WJBK reported.

Pope's survivors include his wife and a 7-year-old son.

The AP has reported 1,264 civilian employees of U.S. government contractors died through Sept. 30, 2008, the latest figures available. The vast majority of civilian contractors in Iraq are employed by the Pentagon.

DynCorp is one of three U.S.-based security contractors that work for the State Department in Iraq.