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Blog Post

Congress Renames and Dedicates ATF Headquarters the “Ariel Rios Federal Building”

Courtesy of
Thomas E. Brandon, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

On December 2, 2016, ATF will have the distinct honor of hosting a ceremony to rename and dedicate ATF Headquarters as the “Ariel Rios Federal Building.”  This is a moment of great pride for the ATF family.  Special Agent Rios, through his life and work, embodied ATF’s commitment to protecting the public and serving the nation.   It is my honor to briefly tell you about the man and the agent.    

Rios grew up in Brooklyn, New York, of Puerto Rican parents who instilled in him the values of education and service.  He began his career in law enforcement serving with the D.C. Department of Corrections and later moved to the New York City Department of Corrections.  His experience working out of Rikers Island prison gave him immeasurable insights into the criminal psyche.   He would leave the Department of Corrections to start a new path with ATF in 1978 in the Boston Field Division working out of the New Haven, Connecticut field office.  His experience working in the NYC prison system groomed Rios into an exceptional agent and wasn’t long before he and his supervisors discovered his talent for undercover work.  During his time in New Haven, he made significant strides infiltrating street gangs and getting guns and drugs off the streets. 

ATF Special Agent Ariel Rios
ATF Special Agent Ariel Rios

In 1982, President Ronald Reagan, in response to unprecedented levels of violence and cocaine trafficking in South Florida, formed the South Florida Drug Task Force.  This task force was comprised of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies responsible for dismantling criminal networks made up of the “Cocaine Cowboys” that were plaguing communities with drugs and violence.  When ATF asked for volunteers to serve on the South Florida Task Force, and despite receiving a ‘Reduction In Force’ notice, Ariel did not hesitate to raise his hand.  By all accounts, the task force succeeded in doing what ATF does best - taking violent criminals off the streets of America.  In the first 6 months of the South Florida Task Force, the work of Rios and his fellow agents was impressive: 388 criminal investigations, 120 cases against 208 defendants, 112 arrests, 90 indictments and 52 convictions, not to mention the $245,000 in seized weapons and drugs.  But as we all know, success does not come without cost. 

Unfortunately, on December 2, 1982, Rios was killed in the line of duty while conducting an undercover operation.  He and another agent, Alex D'Atri, arranged to meet two suspects at the Hurricane Motel in Miami, Florida, to purchase machine guns and drugs.  A confrontation ensued and in a struggle, Special Agent Rios was shot and seriously wounded.  He died shortly thereafter.  Posthumously, Agent Rios was awarded the Secretary of the Treasury Exceptional Service Award.

Rios was survived by his wife and high school sweetheart, Elsie, son, Francisco and daughter, Eileen.   He was buried in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, a beautiful mountain village where Rios envisioned his father retiring to and where he had once told his wife he could rest forever.

While it has been an honor and privilege to facilitate the renaming and dedication of ATF Headquarters to Ariel Rios, doing so serves to remind me of the dangers that the men and women of law enforcement face every day to protect the public and serve our nation.  In that spirit, I would like to extend the dedication of our headquarters to all fallen law enforcement officers who have been in killed in the line of duty.  

Ariel Rios is an inspiration for so many ATF special agents, including myself.  He exhibited the characteristics, the honor, integrity and personal courage, that we ask special agents to hold true.   The memory of Ariel Rios will always serve as a pillar supporting the legacy of ATF far into the future.   To Special Agent Ariel Rios, may he rest in peace.

Updated March 3, 2017