LI Woman Arrested in ‘Senseless' Manhattan Street Shove Death of 87-Year-Old Voice Coach

A top NYPD official called the case a "disgusting, disgraceful offense committed against a vulnerable, elderly female who was doing nothing but walking down the streets of New York City."

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What to Know

  • 26-year-old Lauren Pazienza has been arrested on manslaughter and assault charges in the March 10 street shove attack of Manhattan's Barbara Gustern. The 87-year-old voice coach died five days later
  • Gustern was steps away from her home, around 8:30 p.m. the night of March 10, when cops allege the woman shoved her in a random and "senseless" attack that would turn deadly
  • Pazienza surrendered to police Tuesday. Security video showed that she spent more than 20 minutes in and around the area after the alleged incident occurred, according to prosecutors

A 26-year-old Long Island woman has been arrested on manslaughter and assault charges in the death of a beloved 87-year-old singing coach who was shoved from behind on a Manhattan sidewalk in what authorities described as a random "unprovoked and senseless" attack, authorities said Tuesday.

The arrest of Lauren Pazienza, of Port Jefferson, comes a day after the NYPD declared Barbara Gustern's case a homicide investigation and 12 days after the nighttime attack on a sidewalk near West 28th Street and Eighth Avenue in Chelsea.

Cops had been looking for Pazienza for nearly two weeks, releasing clear surveillance footage from a subway station late last week as they sought to identify their suspect. The NYPD said she turned herself in Tuesday accompanied by her attorney, Arthur Aidala.

An 87-year-old grandmother and notable Broadway voice coach is now clinging to life after she was shoved to the ground outside her home in Chelsea. NBC New York's Jessica Cunnington reports.

Gustern was just steps away from her home, around 8:30 p.m. the night of March 10, when cops say a woman believed to be Pazienza attacked her. Prosecutors said Pazienza crossed the street and cursed at her before shoving her to the ground, where Gustern's head struck the sidewalk. The attacker appeared to briskly walk off afterward.

Gustern was left bleeding profusely, and a witness helped her into the lobby of her building where she recalled what happened, telling police the push was "as hard as she had ever been hit in her life." She later lost consciousness at the hospital.

She suffered traumatic brain damage from which she would not recover even if she survived, authorities and the woman's grandson said.

Gustern ended up dying five days after the attack.

Her grandson, who visited her in the hospital while she was unconscious, said he was pleased with Pazienza's arrest and that it gave "a sense of closure," but stressed that in his mind, the woman is innocent until proven guilty. He also said his grandmother's funeral is Saturday at a church in Chelsea.

"She was a force of nature. I called her a little star. Tiny ball of energy building community everywhere she went," said grandson AJ Gustern. "To whoever did do this I’m still praying for you and the karmic wave that you’ve taken on is incredible. So God help you."

Surveillance video from the corner of West 28th Street and Ninth Avenue minutes after the attack showed a woman matching Pazienza's description walking in the same direction a witness told police the attacker went. Additional surveillance footage tracked Pazienza to Penn Station, where police were able to get a clearer image of her, prosecutors said, and two people who know Pazienza identified her as the woman seen there.

Other security video showed that Pazienza almost a half hour in and around the area after the alleged incident occurred, according to prosecutors. About seven minutes after the attack, she was seen in a physical altercation with a man believed to be her fiancé, prosecutors said, adding that she was later seen watching the ambulance as it arrived at the scene of the attack.

She and her fiancé were later seen at Penn Station, where both swiped his MetroCard. Detectives were able to track the pair back to their home in Astoria, as video from about an hour and a half after the attack showed Pazienza and her fiancé enter their building. She was wearing the same clothes as the woman seen crossing Ninth Avenue immediately following the attack, prosecutors said.

In the aftermath the attack, Pazienza deleted all of her social media and entire online presence — including her wedding website, despite being slated to get married in June, according to prosecutors. She allegedly fled to her parents home on Long Island and stopped using her cellphone, which she stashed at an aunt's house so as to avoid being found by police, prosecutors said.

Police received an anonymous tip on March 19 identifying Pazienza as the suspect in the attack on Gustern. When NYPD detectives went to the parents' home two days later, Pazienza's father answered the door, telling police his daughter was not home and that they were not allowed in, according to prosecutors.

Shortly after, Pazienza's attorneys contacted police and arranged for her to surrender to police Tuesday morning. Prosecutors called her a flight risk and asked for no bail, but cash bail was set at $500,000 at her arraignment Tuesday afternoon.

Pazienza did not answer any questions as she was walked from the stationhouse in handcuffs, her face hidden by her hair, and her parents did not comment as they left court. She faces up to 25 years in prison, if convicted, with the next court appearance scheduled for March 25.

The attorney for Pazienza told reporters the charges are overblown, and they will investigate what happened. He also implied that the evidence was unclear, saying that it could have been an accidental push

"Whether it was a push, whether it was a shove, whether it was a kick or whether someone tripped — the evidence is not very solid on that at all," attorney Aidala said, adding that the bail set was too harsh.

The attorney also said there's no evidence his client watched the victim lie on the street, and that video could show anyone watching.

Pazienza is said to be a former event planner. A former employer, French high-end furniture and home accessory designer and retailer Roche Bobois, said the woman resigned from her role in December. It said it had no additional comments at this time.

Police are looking for a woman who allegedly shoved an 87-year-old woman from behind without warning in Manhattan last week, causing her to fall and hit her head and sending her to the hospital with traumatic brain damage, authorities and the woman's grandson say.

NYPD Chief of Detectives James Essig delivered an impassioned plea last week as he sought the public's help "solving this disgusting, disgraceful offense committed against a vulnerable, elderly female who was doing nothing but walking down the streets of New York City."

According to The New York Times, Gustern was an acclaimed singing coach who once helped train rock singer Debbie Harry and the cast of the 2019 Broadway revival of the musical "Oklahoma!" A neighbor said that Gustern used to perform on Broadway herself, along with her late husband.

Stephen Shanaghan, who owns Manhattan restaurant and theater Pangea, called Gustern a "sharp, clever seasoned New York person." Shanaghan said that Gustern had recently performed there, and that she had hoped to premiere a new cabaret show there.

"They sing and they tell stories, it's very heartwarming. And they've done several different shows here," Shanaghan said.

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