Barbara Maier Gustern, a legendary New York City singing coach, was brutally attacked outside of her apartment building on Thursday night. The 87-year-old suffered a brain injury and has yet to wake up from a coma that may cause permanent physical damage.

Her attacker, who is believed to be a woman with long, dark auburn hair, was captured on security footage but remained at large as of Sunday evening.

Gustern, who coached Blondie’s lead singer Debbie Harry and the 2019 Broadway revival cast for Oklahoma!, was shoved to the ground in the street attack at around 9:30 p.m. She hit her head on the sidewalk in the fall outside her apartment building on West 28th Street in Chelsea, where friends were awaiting her arrival.

They were rehearsing for a cabaret show, The New York Times reported, when they opened the lobby door to find Barbara Maier Gustern covered in blood. A bicyclist and good samaritan helped her reach the door and called an ambulance as her condition slowly worsened.

“I’ve never been hit so hard in my life,” she allegedly told her friend Barbara Bleier as she waited for emergency responders Thursday night. She had a big gash at the top of head but was still able to give police a loose description of her attacker.

“It’s just been such a shock to the entire theatrical community,” Barbara Bleier told reporters.

Doctors at Bellevue Medical Center performed surgery to reduce the swelling of the brain injury, but later said that she would “not be where she was” after recovering, according to her grandson, AJ Gustern.

Barbara Maier Gustern and her grandson, AJ Gustern, who is by her side at the hospital
Barbara Maier Gustern and her grandson, AJ Gustern, who is by her side at the hospital. Photo Credit: Facebook

Barbara Maier Gustern has since been in a coma, and her unknown attacker is still at large. No arrests have been made as of Sunday evening.

“Should she awake, she will most likely suffer speech problems and may be unable to move her right side,” her grandson wrote on Facebook, updating the community. “It is a very serious injury.”

“She has suffered traumatic damage to the left side of her brain, and has been unconscious the entire time,” AJ Gustern explained. “She is intubated and we are unclear how much she is able to breathe on her own.”

A beloved Broadway singing coach, Barbara Maier Gustern turned to coaching after she was not able to fulfill her dream of performing. She ended up finding a career as a well-respected Broadway vocal coach, and volunteered at Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater, where she could also see her students perform.

Barbara Maier Gustern, a beloved Broadway singing coach who felt recently that she found her place in a world she loved
Barbara Maier Gustern, a beloved Broadway singing coach who felt recently that she found her place in a world she loved. Photo Credit: Facebook

“I feel like a singer again for the first time in forever,” she wrote on social media that Thursday morning, before the assault.

Mallory Portnoy, who worked with Barbara Maier Gustern on 2019’s Oklahoma! revival, told The New York Times that she was devastated by the attack, but stated that Ms. Gustern was one of the strongest women she ever knew.

“I don’t know how people come back from something like this at this age, but if anybody could it is this woman,” Portnoy said. “She is so strong and so full of life, and she can overcome, it seems like, truly anything.”

Street attacks in New York City have been rising over the past two years, with harrowing accounts of unprovoked assaults like this one causing residents to fear those around them on the street. Aside from a problem with unstable, homeless people roaming the subways, hate crimes against Asian Americans and the Jewish community have also risen steadily.

According to the New York Police Department (NYPD), crime since last January saw a 38.5% increase, including robbery, grand larceny, and shootings. 

“It’s just a very sad situation, what’s going on in New York City,” one Harlem resident told ABC News. “I hope New York City gets better.”