Police have arrested a suspect in the shoving attack that killed Barbara Gustern, 87, a beloved singing coach in New York City.
The suspect is 26-year-old Lauren Pazienza. The New York Police Department says the young woman turned herself in on 22 March, about two weeks after the assault. She has been charged with manslaughter, but is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Who is Ms Pazienza? What could have possibly motivated her to push an elderly woman – who police say she did not know – to her death? Here’s a look at everything we know so far.
On the evening of 10 March, Ms Gustern was standing on the corner of West 28th Street and 8th Avenue in Chelsea, Manhattan, not far from her apartment building. She was waiting for a cab to take her to Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, The New York Times has reported, where a student of hers was performing.
At about 9.30pm, someone approached Ms Gustern from behind and shoved her violently to the ground. Ms Gustern hit her head on the pavement, leaving a bleeding gash.
“I’ve never been hit so hard in my life,” she told a friend as she waited for police and medics to arrive.
Before she lost consciousness, Ms Gustern managed to describe her attacker to police, and told them the woman shouted a derogatory word before pushing her.
She was then taken to a hospital, where she was treated for what her grandson called “traumatic damage to the left side of her brain”. Her condition deteriorated, and she died on 15 March.
According to a now-deactivated LinkedIn account, Ms Pazienza was a communications and events coordinator at the furniture retailer Roche Bobois. The company says she no longer works there.
“Lauren Pazienza resigned from her role at Roche Bobois in December 2021, and the company has no additional comments at this time,” a spokesperson for Roche Bobois told The Independent.
On Tuesday, as Ms Pazienza was escorted by police to criminal court, she kept her face hidden beneath her long, red hair. As reporters lobbed questions at her – including “Why’d you do it?” and “Why did you attack her?” – she stayed silent.
Ms Pazienza is being represented by Arthur Aidala, the managing partner of the law firm Aidala Bertuna & Kamins. So far, Mr Aidala has made few public comments about the case, except to say that the photo the NYPD has released of the suspect is not necessarily incriminating.
“What they have is a photo of someone who looks like my client getting on the subway,” the lawyer told the Daily Mail on Tuesday. “This attack did not happen on the subway.”
The Independent has reached out to Mr Aidala for further comment.
According to The New York Times, Ms Gustern was a well-regarded and accomplished singing instructor. Among other clients, she coached Blondie singer Debbie Harry and the 2019 cast of the musical Oklahoma!
The actor Taylor Mac, who frequently collaborated with Ms Gustern, described her to the Times as “one of the great humans that I’ve encountered”.
Ms Gustern’s grandson, AJ Gustern, announced her death on Facebook.
“Today, at 11.15AM, we have lost one of the brightest little flames to ever grace this world,” Mr Gustern wrote. “Bobbob, I love you, you are and always will be my heart.”
Ms Gustern’s funeral is scheduled for 26 March at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea, where she was a frequent volunteer at the parish’s soup kitchen.