Sunday, May 28

Suspect in 87-year-old grandmother’s NYC shove death released from Rikers

CHELSEA, Manhattan (WABC) — The suspect arrested for allegedly a beloved 87-year-old grandmother who later died from her injuries in a random unprovoked attack in New York City was released from Rikers Thursday.

The parents of Lauren Pazienza posted bail and she was released Thursday afternoon.

Her attorney, Arthur Aidala, called the 87-year-old victim’s death a tragedy and said once Pazienza is released, his office can start investigating the circumstances of her death

“We look forward to getting the evidence and the discovery material from the attorney’s office so my client will now be able to come to our office and discuss the case with her partners and I to determine what the next steps are,” he said.

Pazienza, 26, of Port Jefferson, turned herself in at the 10th Precinct earlier in the week and was charged with manslaughter.

Barbara Maier Gustern, an active performer and voice coach, was wrapping up rehearsal on March 10 in Chelsea when the woman approached her from behind and pushed her to the ground.

Gustern suffered a severe head injury and was taken to the hospital in critical condition.

Police announced five days later that she had died as a result of her injuries.

Pazienza was supposed to walk down the aisle in June, instead she hid her face behind her long, red hair and said nothing as she was led from the precinct to a police cruiser, but onlookers had plenty to say.

“Horrible, absolutely horrible,” said a Chelsea resident who didn’t want to be identified. “How do you shove an old lady? How do you shove anybody?”

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Instead of a priest, Pazienza cried in front of a judge as bail was set at half a million dollars cash for alleged manslaughter.

“She was crying. She was in pain. She was being accused of a horrible act and she’s a very moral, right, just person, who went to high school, went to college,” defense lawyer Arthur Aidala said. “Has a job. Has a fiancé. Has a family. For her, she’s in the twilight zone.”

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A source close to the case tells Eyewitness News that Pazienza did not know the victim.

Gustern was walking along 28th Street on her way to attend a student’s performance when the woman attacked her near Eighth Avenue.

“We feel victimized,” Chelsea resident Tamar Zucker said. “We feel easily victimized. And I began to feel vulnerable.”

A.J. Gustern is the victim’s grandson.

“She crossed the street, shouted something derogatory at my grandmother, and pushed her down,” he said. “And then fled across the street and just fled.”

Authorities believe Pazienza and her fiancé took the subway to Queens after the fatal attack. Later, she reportedly fled to her parents’ home on Long Island. Her social media accounts have been deleted.

An evaluation was ordered for the defendant but the motive, if there is one, is still unclear.

Pazienza’s family lives in Port Jefferson, but she also maintains an address in Astoria, Queens. She worked most recently for a high-end French furniture designer.

For days, A.J. Gustern says he tried to imagine who the suspect would turn-out to be.

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“To be honest, I’m white hot today,” he said. “I’ve been trying to give this woman the benefit of the doubt. It seems to me like this woman comes from a similar background. Like what really got to me was finding pictures of her smiling in art galleries, dressed nicely with other people.”

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Gustern had been known in the theater world for decades.

She worked with singers ranging from the cast members of the 2019 Broadway revival of the musical “Oklahoma!” to experimental theater artist and 2017 MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Taylor Mac, who told the New York Times she was “one of the great humans that I’ve encountered.”

Her late husband, Joe Gustern, was also a singer, with credits including “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.

A funeral service for the elderly grandmother is scheduled for Saturday.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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