Lauren Pazienza arrest: Funeral for slain NYC vocal coach set as grandson speaks out

The deadly attack was completely unprovoked, prosecutors say

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The NYC funeral of 87-year-old famed Broadway vocal coach Barbara Gustern – who was allegedly knocked to the ground by event planner Lauren Pazienza – will be held Saturday, her grandson told Fox News Digital.

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"She was definitely the light of the room when she walked in," said grandson AJ Gustern. "She opened her doors to anybody and everybody. She taught opera singers, rock stars and everybody in between." 

Barbara Gustern in an undated photo.

Barbara Gustern in an undated photo. (MEGA)

The beloved teacher counted Debbie Harry and actor Taylor Mac among her students. "Everybody knew her or wanted to know her," he said.

Fashion Institute of Technology graduate Pazienza, 26, is charged with first-degree manslaughter and two counts of assault for violently shoving Gustern, who fell to the ground, smacking her head against the pavement, court papers allege.

Gustern, who did not know her assailant, was rushed to the hospital with a brain injury and died a few days later, according to police and prosecutors.  Pazienza fled.

Composite of Lauren Pazienza's mugshot and perp walk.

Composite of Lauren Pazienza's mugshot and perp walk.

AJ Gustern flew from Colorado the moment he got the tragic news and held his grandmother's hand when she was taken off life support.

"I was glad to be with my best friend when she passed away," he said. Her only child and husband predeceased her.

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Gustern's funeral will be held at the Church of the Holy Apostles in Chelsea -- across the street from her apartment, where she often taught her students, and on the same block where she was mortally injured. 

Manslaughter suspect Lauren Pazienza's yearbook photo (Fox News Digital)

Manslaughter suspect Lauren Pazienza's yearbook photo (Fox News Digital) (Fox News Digital)

The tragedy unfolded March 10 at about 8:30 p.m. after Gustern wrapped up a cabaret rehearsal at her apartment with friends and fellow performers Barbara Bleier, Paul Greenwood and Austin Pendleton.

Gustern dashed out of the building to head to a student's performance at Joe's Pub when Pazienza allegedly crossed the street, called her a "b--ch" and pushed her in an unprovoked attack, court papers charge.

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A male bicyclist who witnessed the assault, carried Gustern, who was bleeding profusely from her head, into her building. Bleier was still in the lobby and rushed to her friend's side. 

Gustern allegedly told her a woman with long hair had hit her harder than she's ever been hit in her life, then lost consciousness, according to the complaint. 

Bleier declined to discuss the moments leading up to her friend's death for fear of jeopardizing the case – but described her as a "remarkable person."  

Barbar Gustern in an undated photo. 

Barbar Gustern in an undated photo.  (Barbara Maier Gustern/Facebook)

"I don't think I've ever heard anybody say a bad word about her," Bleier told Fox News Digital. "She was one of the most generous, non-judgemental, and caring people that I have ever met. Her loss has impacted the theatrical, musical theater and cabaret communities."

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Gustern's age had not slowed her down, Bleier said. "She was the fastest walker I know. She'd run down 17 flights of stairs. She was a 4-feet-11, 87-pound ball of energy," she recalled. "She was a truly loving, kind person."

She added, "Of all the people for this to have happened to, it shouldn't have been Barbara."

Greenwood, Pendleton and Bleier will perform the cabaret show they had rehearsed with Gustern at "Don't Tell Mama" in Manhattan without her. Gustern had directed the show, which featured Stephen Sondheim and Oscar Hammerstein numbers, and was supposed to perform three songs. Bleier said all proceeds will be donated to the Church of the Apostles soup kitchen – Gustern's favored charity.

Investigators eventually tracked Pazienza to her parent's home in Port Jefferson, Long Island, after she abruptly quit her job and scrubbed her social media accounts – including a website for her upcoming wedding in June to Microsoft employee Naveen Pereira. 

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She's being held at Riker's Island in lieu of $500,000 cash over $1 million bond. Defense lawyer Arthur Aidala said he expected her family to post bail in the next two days.