Francisco Ruiz: Where is the Bodyguard Now?

Terrorist acts inflict profound devastation, leaving an indelible mark on the lives of countless individuals. The repercussions are manifold, affecting communities, families, and individuals in various ways. The actions of groups like the ETA, known for their separatist agenda, have wrought havoc, resulting in the loss of numerous lives. Their relentless pursuit of political goals through violent means created an atmosphere of fear and anguish.

One example is the story of Francisco Ruiz, whose harrowing ordeal serves as a testament to the far-reaching impact of terrorism. His experiences, shared in the Netflix documentary ‘Face to Face with ETA: Conversations with a Terrorist,’ provide a stark narrative that underscores the urgency of understanding the human cost of such actions. Ruiz’s story serves as a reminder of the need to confront the consequences of terrorism and emphasizes the importance of collective awareness and empathy in fostering a more resilient society.

Francisco Ruiz Fell Victim to ETA’s Attacks

Born in the post-Spanish Civil War era, Francisco Ruiz Sánchez relocated to Euskadi at the age of three and later found his calling as a licensed plumber by the age of 17. Around 28 or 29 years old, Ruiz decided to move to Ciudad Real, where he laid the foundations of a fulfilling life, marrying and ultimately becoming the proud father of four daughters. Following the completion of his military service, he discovered that Galdakao, his place of residence, had three openings for police officers. Although law enforcement was not a career he had initially aspired to, Ruiz seized the opportunity for a stable salary and successfully cleared the public service exam.

In the documentary, Ruiz recounted the events of February 9, 1976, when he commenced his duty at 6 a.m. as was customary. Tasked with serving as the mayor’s bodyguard on that fateful day, he stood watch outside the mayor’s residence, prepared to accompany him to his car, a routine spanning approximately 500 meters. As the senior officer, Ruiz positioned himself to escort the mayor. However, at precisely 8 a.m., an ETA cell ambushed them just 20 meters away from the house, opening fire with both handguns and machine guns. He vividly remembers the assailants firing at least five or six shots at the mayor, resulting in his immediate demise at the scene.

Ruiz himself sustained multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and stomach during the ambush. Remarkably, he seized an opportunity to react, managing to crawl between two cars that happened to be nearby. As the ETA terrorists made their escape, one of them directed a gun at him and discharged a few rounds, but he attributes his survival to the protective cover provided by the vehicles. Despite enduring multiple gunshot wounds, he miraculously remained conscious throughout the incident. Unfortunately, fear permeated the surroundings, causing a prolonged delay in receiving assistance as people were hesitant to approach. Eventually, he was transported to a hospital, and simultaneously, his wife was picked up by a police car and brought to the same medical facility.

The odds of survival were markedly slim, yet after enduring a five-month stay in the hospital, Ruiz returned home in a wheelchair, only to confront a barrage of judgment and social isolation. Upon his return, he sensed a palpable reluctance from people to associate with him and his family, a manifestation of the pervasive fear in the Basque Country. The atmosphere was tainted by apprehension, as many were afraid to be seen supporting a victim of an ETA terrorist attack, a Basque nationalist. This ostracization proved more emotionally taxing for him than the physical trauma of the attack itself. His family too faced humiliation and derogatory comments such as “screw that police officer for protecting [the mayor].” Faced with the distressing reality, Ruiz decided to relocate from the area for the well-being of his family.

Francisco Ruiz Lives in Ciudad Real Today

Image Credit: El Mundo

Ruiz relocated to La Rioja before finally settling in Valdepeñas, his homeland. He subsequently not only grappled with the physical challenges stemming from the attack he’d endured but also faced significant economic hardships. Devoid of any state compensation, which only started coming in the 1990s, he navigated the next four years on crutches. Despite these adversities, Ruiz exhibited remarkable resilience. Embarking on a journey marked by diverse occupations, he evolved into a salesman, selling sausages and distributing textbooks. He later transitioned into the role of a tobacconist and ventured into real estate by acquiring a hostel. The arduous path to recovery involved undergoing seven surgeries to remove all the bullets embedded in his body.

In 2016, Ruiz sadly received the diagnosis of cardiac amyloidosis. He opted for a trial treatment, experiencing positive progress until 2017 when he encountered arrhythmia. Despite the complications, he underwent surgery during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2020, confronted with his grim prognosis, Ruiz, spurred by his daughters, commenced writing his memoir, ‘Twelve Bullets in the Soul.’ Collaborating with writer Rosa Peñasco, he dedicated this book to his wife, Marisa. This literary endeavor brought him into contact with Spanish journalist Jordi Evole, leading to his participation in an interview for the Netflix original. He thus also became one of the first people to view the documentary, learning for the first time that Josu Urrutikoetxea was among the many involved in the 1976 shooting that changed his life. Currently living in Ciudad Real, Ruiz, 75, remains uncertain about Josu’s remorse, yet he harbors a belief in forgiveness should they ever cross paths. In other words, the family man is moving on with life to the best of his abilities.

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