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A cat sits in front of flowers left by mourners outside an outbuilding James McGregor was known to stay in on the corner of Haggin Avenue North and Second Street East in Red Lodge on Sunday. McGregor's body was discovered last week near a trailhead outside of Red Lodge. The man accused of killing him, Thomas Schifferns, will be arraigned Wednesday in Carbon County District Court.

Nearly every Sunday for more than three years, James "Jimmy" McGregor greeted Red Lodge churchgoers from atop the stairs at the Church of the Rockies. 

Last Sunday, however, McGregor and his smile were missing. 

"It was a very sad day for our church family," said Pastor Lee Merck.

News broke last week that McGregor's body had been found near a trailhead south of Red Lodge. Police believe he was killed and another Red Lodge resident, Thomas Schifferns, was arrested on suspicion of deliberate homicide in McGregor's death. 

This Sunday, the church will say goodbye to McGregor and honor his life, hosting a funeral service open to all at the Red Lodge Civic Center. 

"He wasn't a charity case for us," Merck said. "He was a friend." 

McGregor showed up at the church's first public event in Red Lodge nearly four years ago: a community meal called Common Ground, aimed at helping introduce the fledgling Southern Baptist church to the community. 

From there, McGregor began showing up early at services every week to help set out welcome flags inviting people to attend. Then he would stand atop the stairs near the church's entrance, smiling, shaking hands and occasionally giving out hugs as he passed out bulletins for the service, Merck said. He would drink coffee with church members and help clean up the church afterward. About 100 people attend church every Sunday, Merck said. 

Calls offering help and condolences have continued to come to the church since McGregor's death. 

Because of the church's partnerships with other churches, services were sometimes attended by people out of state, often from the southeast. 

"There have been tears shed in Jimmy's death from Louisana up to Virginia," Merck said. Contrary to what some may believe, McGregor was not homeless, Merck said. McGregor often stayed in a small shack near a horse barn on the northern end of town where he was known to tend to the horses. 

"He was like everybody else in terms of being part of the church family and enjoying fellowship with us," Merck said. "The conversations that I had with him about spiritual matters, he indicated that he trusted in Christ and that he kept coming to be a part of expressing that through doing good deeds." 

As he walked through town, McGregor would often throw up a hand to wave if he heard a greeting shouted his way, Merck said. 

Some of McGregor's friends from outside church showed up to pray Sunday.

"We took time to look into the word of God and comfort one another," Merck said, adding that it was a time of mourning and also a time to remember good things.

McGregor, who was 63 at the time of his death, was originally born in Grand Haven, Michigan, according to an obituary published in the Grand Haven Tribune. McGregor is survived by his father James McGregor Sr. and five sisters, Patricia Heron, Vicki Flynn, Lisa McWilliams, Gayle Walter and Janet Lamanna, according to the obituary. A memorial mass will be held for him at 11 a.m. on Wednesday at St. Patrick-St Anthony Catholic Church in Grand Haven. 

Sunday's funeral service in Red Lodge will begin at 5 p.m. at the Civic Center located at 214 14th St. W. 

"We are hoping to use this as an opportunity to turn tragedy into triumph and to help people define comfort and hope and to be able to move forward and continue to be a good community, and just to really be intentional about being good to others," Merck said.


Night Reporter

General assignment reporter for The Billings Gazette.