Former babysitter witnessed guns, living conditions in Venice home

- An entire community is upset after deputies said they discovered weapons, explosives and unacceptable living conditions in a home where a couple lived with their 5-year-old.

The home off of Jackson Road in Venice was shared by Steven Pace and Katie Smith, who were arrested and face several charges including aggravated child abuse. Pace also faces a possession of explosives charge.

Neighbors said they recently became concerned for the welfare of the child after conditions at the home took a downward turn.

"We stick together as a family and, no, this is not acceptable and this will not be tolerated," said a neighbor named Michele.

Michele did not want to give her last name, and lives on the same property shared by Pace and Smith. Michelle said over the past three years, she would babysit Smith's 5-year-old daughter, but recently became concerned.

"That day that I saw those weapons, that was it. I said, 'okay Stephen, either you get rid of those or I'm gonna call the cops,'" she said.

However, deputies showed up at the home before Michelle made a report. Someone made a call to the Department of Children and Families, requesting a welfare check at the home.

"There were five dogs living within the house, 3 ferrets. The place was dirty, filthy, the bathrooms looked like they hadn't been cleaned in years," said Sgt. Brian Gregory with the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office.

What started out as concern for the child turned into concern for everyone on the block.

Inside the home, deputies said they found about 15 guns, two pipe bombs, two hand grenades and what they believe is synthetic marijuana. The items were all said to be within reach of the 5-year-old.

"There were some guns just sitting right out and easily assessable. There were some that were put away. Some of them were loaded," said Sgt. Gregory.

Deputies said Pace bought the bombs home about a month ago. He told deputies he didn't intend to hurt anyone with them, but the bomb squad said at least one of the devices was active.

"They didn't really have a good excuse and they were aware that these things were assessable," said Sgt. Gregory.

The little girl was taken into DCF custody. Neighbors said they are hopeful for her to have a second chance and a good home.

"That little girl does not deserve this. She needs a life. She deserves to have a life. This is not a life for nobody," said Michele.

Pace and Smith are charged with aggravated child abuse. Pace also faces 4 counts of possession of an explosive device and additional charges are pending. Both were in the Sarasota County Jail. Pace is being held on a $180,000 bond and Smith on $100,000 bond. 

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