It happened around 3:30 a.m. in Fayetteville's Shaw Heights community, along the 5700 block of Peele Street.
Authorities said Ahmad Daniels was struck when someone fired shots into the home where the toddler was sleeping in a back room mattress. He was home with an aunt, grandfather and four other children at time of shooting.
The boy was taken by ambulance to Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in critical condition. His aunt told ABC11 that Ahmad stopped breathing at one point, but is now on a ventilator suffering from internal bleeding and possible brain damage.
"Can't do nothing right now but pray and hope he comes home alright, that's it. But he fighting," said family friend Marekiss McNeill.
Eyewitnesses said two sets of gunshots were extremely loud, and bullet holes that are scattered along the right side of the home are large.
"It sounded almost like an assault rifle or a shotgun," said neighbor Kris Campbell. "It was like 'Boom, Boom.' So it was like four (shots), but it was like at a pause, then shots again. It was crazy. Everybody was scared."
Investigators were going door-to-door in the neighborhood Friday afternoon, trying to get information that might help them catch the shooter.