On the 34th anniversary of they day he was killed in the line of duty, the headquarters of the Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives Bureau was renamed for a special agent assigned to the New Haven field office.
Special Agent Ariel Rios was gunned down during an undercover drug deal.
Three and a half decades later, a special ceremony in Washington, D.C. was held to officially name ATF Headquarters in honor of Rios.
Sgt. First class Frank Rios was just a 1-year-old when his father was killed. He said the ceremony was emotional for his family.
“American hero, and Hispanic hero, an ATF agent,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said.
Sgt. First Class Rios unveiled the official plaque naming ATF headquarters for his father on Friday.
“It’s an honor to have this kind of acknowledgment for my father’s career and life and everything he’s done and accomplished,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said.
“It’s an honor for the family. I don’t want to start crying again, so it’s beautiful,” Esilda Morales-Rios, Agent Rios' widow said.
On Friday December 2, 1982, Agent Rios gave a wink to his partner and supervisor Agent Alex D’Atri. The pair had just sealed the deal in a major undercover buy of 3 kilos of cocaine worth $150,000.
It was to be a big win against the Colombian cartels; the cocaine cowboys dominating the drug world and contributing to the rising death count in South Florida.
In seconds, tragedy erupted inside a rundown motel in Little Havana, Miami.
Rios was a shot in the face with a 357-Magnum.
“My father was shot and killed. And then his partner was shot like 5-6 times and lived to tell the tale,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said.
“Special Agent D’Atri heard Special Agent Rios yell 'no' and then he heard a gunshot," Timothy J. Carroll, Resident Agent in charge of the Hartford field office said. "He turned to see Agent Rios and one of the men struggling over a firearm. Then he saw Special Agent Rios get shot. Special Agent D’Atri returned fire, but while returning fire he was also shot.”
The United States never forgotten agent Rios' sacrifice.
“He stands out for his courage, selflessness and dedication to the mission of this agency,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said at Friday's ceremony.
At the time, Rios had volunteered for the Vice President’s Anti-Drug Task Force, wanting to take down the drug lords that had taken over Miami-Dade County.
“His former supervisors and fellow co-workers said he was a natural undercover agent. Born to do it, and he could transform himself into anything," Carroll said. "Agent Rios was the first of the modern ATF to be killed in the line of duty.”
“He loved his job, he really did. He lived for his job and there is no way he’d want to do anything different,” Morales-Rios said.
Now her late husband’s legacy will live on forever in Washington.
“It’s an ending and a reward for all agents who worked so hard to make it happen. It was them who made it happen,” Sgt. 1st Class Rios said. “He was very committed to his job, he did everything at 100-percent. I have a drive in me, I feel like i got from him.”
In 1985 the Ariel Rios Federal Building was named in honor of Agent Rios. ATF shared the building was other agencies on Pennsylvania Avenue, but that building was renamed for President Bill Clinton in 2013.
ATF had never before had a standalone headquarters without sharing a building with another agency. ATF moved into its new headquarters in 2006.
The Ariel Rios building is the only federal building in Washington, D.C. named after a fallen agent.