The 26-year-old woman accused of shoving an 87-year-old voice coach in an alleged unprovoked attack in New York that led to his death was indicted by a grand jury this week.
Lauren Pazienza faces one count of first-degree manslaughter and two counts of second-degree assault in the March 10 push on Barbara Gustern, who was within walking distance of her Chelsea home, around 8:30 p.m. the night of the attack.
Pazienza was previously jailed on Rikers Island, but was released after her parents posted $500,000 cash bail to free their daughter in March. She is due back in court in May and faces up to 25 years in prison if found guilty.
Following the alleged attack on the sidewalk near West 28th Street and 8th Avenue, prosecutors said Pazienza took down her entire online presence — including her wedding website, though she had to to marry in June – reportedly fled to his parents’ home in Port Jefferson, Long Island. They also alleged that she had stopped using her mobile phone, which she had hidden at an aunt’s house in order to avoid being found by the police.
An anonymous March 19 tip identifying Pazienza as a suspect in the attack led the NYPD to her parents’ doorstep two days later. Her father responded, telling police his daughter was not home and they were not allowed in, prosecutors said.
His surrender was arranged shortly thereafter. And a jarring narrative began to emerge.
Barbara Gustern was celebrated and memorialized at a church across from her Manhattan home on Saturday. Reporting by NBC New York’s Jessica Cunnington.
Prosecutors alleged that Pazienza crossed the street and insulted Gustern before violently shoving her to the ground. Gustern’s head hit the pavement and she bled profusely before a witness helped her into the lobby of her apartment building where she recalled what had happened, telling police that the thrust was “as hard as she had ever been touched in her life”.
Five days later, she died.
Meanwhile, her attacker appeared to quickly walk away after the incident. Surveillance video from an avenue minutes after the attack showed a woman matching Pazienza’s description walking in the same direction a witness told police the attacker had gone.
Security video showed Pazienza in and around the area for nearly half an hour after the attack, prosecutors said. About seven minutes after the scuffle, she was seen in a physical altercation with a man believed to be her fiancé, prosecutors said. They also allege that Pazienza was later seen watching the ambulance as it arrived on the scene to take Gustern to the hospital.
Additional surveillance footage tracked Pazienza to Penn Station, where police were able to get a clearer picture of her, prosecutors said. She and her fiancé were later seen at the transit center, where both swiped her MetroCard. Detectives were able to track the couple to their home in Astoria, where video showed Pazienza and her fiancé entering their building about an hour and a half after the attack, prosecutors said.
She was wearing the same clothes as the woman who was seen crossing Ninth Avenue immediately after the attack, they added.
The woman accused of shoving a beloved Broadway vocal coach, who later died, will soon be released from prison. Reporting by NBC New York’s Myles Miller.
Paziena surrendered to authorities on March 22, with attorney Arthur Aidala by his side. At the time, Aidala called the accusations exaggerated. He said they were looking forward to seeing the evidence and “trying to figure out what happened that day”, calling what happened to Gustern a “tragedy”.
Aidala also said there was no evidence his client watched the victim lying on the street, and the video could show anyone watching. He also suggested the evidence was unclear, saying the push could have been accidental.
“Whether it’s a push, a shove, a kick, or someone tripping, the evidence isn’t very strong on that,” he said. .
Aidala said the Pazienza family “joins the rest of the city” in mourning the loss of Gustern. He also answered questions about whether his client’s parents would face charges for allegedly helping her hide at their Long Island home.
“No. His parents are not subject to justice, they were three counties away when this incident happened,” he replied.
Pazienza is said to be a former event planner. A former employer, French designer and retailer of high-end furniture and home accessories Roche Bobois, said the woman quit her job in December.
Police called the incident “unprovoked” and “reckless”, and now the suspect faces manslaughter charges after being found at her parents’ Long Island home. NBC New York’s Erica Byfield reports.
Gustern suffered traumatic brain damage that she would not recover from even if she survived, authorities and the woman’s grandson, AJ Gustern, said.
The grandson, who visited her in hospital while she was unconscious, said in March he was pleased with Pazienza’s arrest and that it gave him “a sense of closure”, but said pointed out that in his mind, the woman is innocent until proven guilty.
“For whoever did this, I always pray for you and the karmic wave you took is amazing. So God help you,” he said, going on to describe his grandmother as “a force of nature. I called her a little star. A little ball of energy that builds community wherever she goes.
According to The New York Times, Gustern was an acclaimed vocal coach who once helped train rock singer Debbie Harry and the cast of the 2019 Broadway revival of the musical “Oklahoma!” A neighbor said Gustern performed on Broadway herself, along with her late husband.
Stephen Shanaghan, who owns Manhattan restaurant and theater Pangea, called Gustern “a seasoned, smart, shrewd New Yorker.” Shanaghan said Gustern had recently performed there and had hoped to create a new cabaret show there.
An 87-year-old grandmother and remarkable Broadway voice coach is now clinging on to life after being pushed to the ground outside her home in Chelsea. Reporting by NBC New York’s Jessica Cunnington.