When Stacey Wehrman Feeley found her 3-year-old daughter standing on a toilet seat in her home, she took a photo to show her husband their child’s silly antics.
Then, her daughter explained that she was practicing something she had learned to do at preschool – how to hide if the school goes on lockdown.
“She so innocently explained, ‘I’m doing a lockdown drill and I have to be very quiet,’ ” Feeley tells PEOPLE. “When I stepped back and thought about what our kids have to go through to be safe, it broke me.”
Instead of sending the photo to her husband, the Traverse City, Michigan, mom of three and CEO posted the photo on Facebook with an impassioned message about gun control.
“Politicians – take a look. This is your child, your children, your grandchildren, your great grand children and future generations to come,” she wrote. “They will live their lives and grow up in this world based on your decisions. They are barely 3 and they will hide in bathroom stalls standing on top of toilet seats. I do not know what will be harder for them? Trying to remain quiet for an extended amount of time or trying to keep their balance without letting a foot slip below the stall door?”
Feeley’s post – which was shared just three days after the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history – went viral and has garnered over 16,000 shares.
Since then, Feeley has been inundated with messages of support from around the world. She says she never imagined that her post would reach thousands, but she’s glad it did.
“I’ve signed petitions for gun control, I’ve written my senators and I didn’t necessarily ever feel like I was doing anything,” she says. “I just wanted my friends and my family to really understand what our kids are going through.”
Now that the post has been read by thousands, she says she hopes it “sparks a conversation.”
“A lot of people have reached out with information for groups that are working to combat gun violence or increase mental health services,” she says. “It’s been wonderful and I’m just glad to see how people were touched by this message.”
Feeley says she’s thankful that her daughter’s school is preparing students for a very real threat, but she’s saddened by how Americans have been forced to adapt to a “new normal” of gun violence.
“I think schools are doing everything they can to adjust to that new normal and they’re doing a really good job, but at the same time, what’s next?” she asks. “It’s schools, it’s every single movie theater you go to, it’s every public venue you go to. What are all of these other places doing for security measures? It’s clearly not just our schools.”
“It’s a sad environment these days and I want to know what we can do to not have to face these kinds of challenges,” she continues.
In the face of continued political opposition – the U.S. Senate rejected four new gun control proposals on Monday – Feeley says she hopes that messages like hers will inspire others to think about how gun violence can be addressed outside of politics.
“One of the things I asked in my post is how can I help? What can I do? And I’m still asking that – what else can I do?” she says. “There are lots of groups I can join and things like that but I do think it’s time to start asking innovators out there to think outside the box and find ways to work on this outside of politics.”
“Nobody wants their little kid to have to worry about standing on a toilet without letting their foot slip below the stall,” she says. “This is not something that we have ever envisioned for our children, so we as a community need to come together and talk about it.”