Fallen ATF Agent Honored with Ariel Rios Federal Building (Learn More)

Ariel Rios (April 5, 1954 – December 2, 1982) was an undercover special agent for the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), killed in the line of duty. He was a member of the Presidential anti-drug task force in South Florida.

Circumstances of Death

Special Agents Ariel Rios and Alex D’Atri were working undercover as part of the Vice President’s (George H. W. Bush) South Florida Task Force.

The agents made arrangements to meet with two suspects at the Hurricane Motel in Miami to purchase large quantities of cocaine and machine guns.

The meeting was going well until one suspect suddenly became suspicious.  It is believed that he may have observed other law enforcement personnel in the area.

He drew his weapon and made threats and Agent Rios immediately struggled with him.  Agent Rios was shot and seriously wounded.  Agent D’Atri immediately drew his weapon and engaged in a gunfight with both suspects.  Agent D’Atri and the two suspects were all seriously wounded.

The agents were rushed to the hospital and considering their wounds, not expected to live.  Agent Rios died shortly thereafter.

Agent D’Atri, although wounded five times, miraculously survived after several surgeries and months of recovery.  Two defendants were convicted of Federal first degree murder, assault and firearm charges for the death of SA Rios and the wounding of SA D’Atri.

Three other defendants were convicted on 2nd degree murder and assault charges for the death of SA Rios and wounding of SA D’Atri.  Seven additional defendants were convicted on conspiracy and possession with intent to distribute cocaine charges.


SA Rios joined ATF on December 4, 1978.  He carried badge #1527.  Prior to his death, SA Rios was one of the most active and effective agents on the Vice President’s Task Force.

The week prior to his murder, SA Rios was the case agent on the seizure of two machine guns and over 100 firearm silencers.  Approximately three months earlier, eight people had died and two were wounded during a massacre at the same location where the silencers had been manufactured.

Rios' widow Elsie with son Francico and daughter Eileen
Rios’ widow Elsie with son Francico and daughter Eileen

In an unrelated case several months prior to his death, SA Rios was working undercover when a suspect put a loaded machine gun to his head.

He later learned this was their way of testing him to see, “how he would react.”  Agent Rios (posthumously) received several awards, including the Secretary’s (of the Treasury) Exceptional Service Award and a Meritorious Service Award from the Dade County Chief’s of Police Association in recognition of his investigative work in Dade County, FL.


SA Rios was born in New York, NY.  He was survived by his wife, Elsie and their two children.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch Delivers Remarks at the Dedication of Ariel Rios Federal Building

Thank you, Deputy Director Thomas Brandon, for that kind introduction and for your outstanding leadership of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).

I also want to acknowledge my colleagues from across the Department of Justice who are here today, as well as the many current and former federal and local law enforcement officers and members of the armed forces who have taken the time to join us.

And, of course, I want to thank the family of Special Agent Ariel Rios – especially his wife, Elsie, and his children, Eileen and Frank.  You honor us all with your presence.

We are here today to rename a building.  But more importantly, we are here to honor a man.  Thanks to the tireless efforts of lawmakers, law enforcement officers and members of the public, the headquarters of ATF will once again bear the name of Special Agent Ariel Rios.

This is as it should be.  In an agency known for bravery and dedication – and in the rich history of the Department of Justice – Special Agent Rios stands out for his intrepid courage, total selflessness and steadfast integrity.

At the age of just 27, he accepted an assignment as an undercover narcotics agent in south Florida, subjecting himself to extreme stress and harrowing danger on a daily basis.  He did so not for reward or recognition, but because he believed in the cause of justice, a cause that he served with commitment and skill.

Ariel Rios ATF

Thirty-four years ago today, Special Agent Rios gave his life for that cause, when he and his partner, Special Agent Alex D’Atri, were executing an undercover operation in Miami.

Special Agent D’Atri suffered serious wounds in that operation, but he survived.  He is here with us today, and I ask all of you to join me in recognizing his valor and heroism.

This is the second ATF headquarters building to be named for Special Agent Rios.

By consecrating this site in his memory, we give public expression to our private feelings: our gratitude for his service; our admiration for his bravery; and our awe at his sacrifice.  The granite and steel within this foundation symbolize his strength and determination.

The soaring glass of the atrium echoes his open heart and generous soul.  And the public facing sign we will soon dedicate illustrates his commitment to the protection of the American people.

With this dedication, we ensure that future generations of ATF agents and employees will be inspired by the life and example of Special Agent Ariel Rios.  And we show our determination to continue the work for which he gave his life.

Ultimately, that work is the most fitting memorial we can offer to the memory of Ariel Rios.

Naming this building in his honor is indeed a high tribute, but the memory of Ariel Rios lives on not simply in a structure, but in his enduring spirit – a spirit of devotion to duty; service to others; and fidelity to the law.

That spirit animated Ariel Rios in life and it led him to keep his oath unto death.  It represents the highest aspiration of our profession – the standard by which law enforcement officers measure themselves each and every day.

And so, on this solemn occasion, let we who are gathered here today resolve to honor the memory of Special Agent Rios not only by bestowing his name upon this building, but by emulating his spirit in our work.

Let us reaffirm our commitment to the ideals he served so well.  And let us continue to build the more just, the more peaceful – the more perfect – union for which he gave his life.

May God bless the memory of Special Agent Ariel Rios and shelter his family in his everlasting grace.  May He bless all the fallen in our law enforcement family and protect all those who continue to serve.  And may He continue to bless the United States of America.

– Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

(ATF Ariel Rios Building Construction time lapse video of the ground breaking and construction of ATF Headquarters, Washington D.C.. Courtesy of ATF HQ and YouTube)