Capitol Police Officer Paints to Cope with 9/11 Trauma

Frederico A. Ruiz works on a piece of art in his studio. He is applying paint from a red bottle onto a small canvas.
Federico A. Ruiz in his studio. Courtesy Roll Call.

When Federico A. Ruiz, an Army search-and-rescue team leader based in Fort Belvoir, Va., led his fellow soldiers into the Pentagon on 9/11 to search for survivors of the attacks, he knew a tremendous shift had taken place and an era of peace was over.

“We were kind of like the first soldiers in a long sprint of peacetime, if you want to say that, that ended up going in and seeing Americans and soldiers dead,” Ruiz, now a Capitol Police Officer, told Roll Call. “Deceased on U.S. soil.”

The Army encouraged Pentagon first responders to seek out therapy groups to cope with the trauma of the event. Ruiz, who had painted as a child, gravitated toward art therapy.

Ruiz recalls his early works depicted violence and war. “It looked more like somebody’s nightmare than anything,” he said. “It got some emotions out, but it’s not what I wanted to paint, so I started exploring different types of styles of painting and digging into who I am and what made me happy.”

Over time, his themes softened, and now he paints landscapes inspired by his childhood visits to the Dominican Republic. Hear more about Ruiz’s art and his experiences as a first responder in this video from Roll Call.

Ruiz’s work is now on view through July in the exhibition “Land, Sea & Sky: A Minimalist’s Caribbean” in Glen Echo Park, Md.

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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